Watch The Throne was always a curious collaboration, and as raps two biggest superstars rise on giant electronic podiums at either end of the O2, it fittingly represents just how far apart these goliaths have grown.
Kanye has spent the best part of the last five years turning his ego into a situationist spectacle, broadcast across the globe. In the studio he’s gone from strength to strength tearing his bravado to shreds and producing the most lavish and forward thinking maximalist arrangements in town. At the same time, Jay-Z has comfortably settled into his post-retirement party; producing giant hits without pushing himself to produce a work of substantial merit. As one man was pouring his heart out into a vocoder, the other was declaring the death of auto-tune.
Tonight however, the stars recreate the magic of 2011’s Watch The Throne united by raps fundamental conflict of interest: the joys of excess and the tragedy of poverty and prejudice. Masterfully constructed their set manages to cram in almost all the hits while producing a series of rewarding narratives. After “Big Pimpin”, Kanye remembers watching the video in his apartment and dreaming of making stacks of cash, unfortunately it didn’t pan out that way as the unmistakable “She took my money” intro announces “Gold Digger’s” arrival. Jay’s response is simple, he launches straight into “99 Problems”.
Even when faced with a crowd who are rabid throughout, forming a series of circle pits during “Niggas In Paris”, the duo find plenty of room for reflection. “Jesus Walks”, “Diamonds In Sierra Leone” and “P.S.A” provide a stark and powerful trio while the combination of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” and The Throne’s “No Church In The Wild” set to images of riots, racism, and destruction give the entire arena pause.
Ultimately it’s excess rather than subtlety that wins the day as “Touch The Sky” bounces into “All Of The Lights” and “Empire State Of Mind” rebounds into “Runaway”. The duo’s intensity never falters as the seething throng is barely given a second to breathe. There was always a new beat to bounce to, a new hook to bellow, and a new laser to gawp at. Kanye calls it “the best show in the world”, and as an exhausted audience hobble out of the arena like war wounded, it’s almost impossible to disagree. David Hayter