Stopping in Toronto for their much-hyped Watch the Throne tour, Jay-Z and Kanye West delivered two outstanding shows last Wednesday and Thursday nights at the Air Canada Centre. Combining their talent, they took the stage with a non-stop groove, many classics, and effortless precision. They flowed between anthems off this year’s collaborative album, Watch the Throne, and hit after hit from their back catalogues. Audiences were not underwhelmed, even for a moment; most of their major songs were performed, leaving every fan satisfied.
The show was a celebration of the artists’ talent and skill. Jay-Z effortlessly commanded awe and respect as he ripped through one classic track after another. Hearing him deliver selections from his entire 15-year career only proved how much he has contributed to the rap industry. Jay-Z has grown up, though. Hearing him perform “New Day”, in which he promises a perfect life to the child he is soon to have, was transcendent.
Kanye proved himself worthy of the stage with his mentor. Like Kanye, the show was simultaneously minimalist and over the top, but always spot-on. Constant lasers, giant raising cubes used as stages, and shooting flames highlighted the overall simple set. Kanye’s performance of last year’s mammoth anthem “Runaway” was as enormous as such an artist demands. Building on a single note, he stood proudly atop a glowing red cube at least 30 feet in the air in the centre of the ACC and put layer after layer on top of that note, transforming it into an anthem for this generation.
Another highlight was “All of the Lights”. It took three tries for Kanye to be satisfied because, as he said, “We paid enough money that we are going to get a perfect ‘All of the Lights’!” In truth, the crowd roared all three times equally enthusiastically, suggesting that it was only Kanye who noticed there was anything less than thrilling about the intro. But when the song was finally performed, it definitely turned out perfect.
The show was also a celebration of their influences and their worlds. In fact, the first highlight of the night didn’t even come from Kanye or Jay-Z, but from Otis Redding singing “Try a Little Tenderness”. The crowd sang along beautifully to the full two-minute clip, ultimately building to the sample that is this year’s hit, “Otis”. The two then stormed onto the stage with enthusiasm, passion, and fire. This effort was repeated with Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”.
Nearing the end of the show, the performance of the soulful “Made in America” was the show’s most beautiful moment. The audience created a universe of lights with lighters and cellphones, as supersized images of Martin Luther King Jr. and other heroes were reverently displayed.
These two may be the biggest names in rap today, and by coming together, they’ve only boosted each other to greater heights. Just as Michael Jackson is the “King of Pop” and Aretha Franklin is the “Queen of Soul”, so this show only proved that Jay-Z and Kanye West have rightfully taken the rap throne.