New Jersey Izod Centre, Saturday 5th November
The problem with supergroups is that they are, almost by definition, a breeding ground for complacency. When you’ve realised virtually all of your musical goals and become used to fame and adulation, summoning the will to earn it all again is something that few are willing or able to do. Given that both [a]Kanye West[/a] and [a]Jay-Z[/a] are pretty much the biggest music stars in the world right now, ‘[b]Watch The Throne[/b]’ is a project that should be mired in malaise – but watching them perform together, it becomes apparent that the only thing capable of pushing each of them to greater heights is the other.
Right from the off, the scene is set for gladiatorial rap battle. As opener ‘[b]HAM[/b]’ resounds around the arena, the [b]Jigga[/b] is at one end of the venue, [b]Yeezy[/b] at the other, and they both ascend high above the crowd on gigantic cube-shaped podiums as they spit the track’s boastful verses at each other. Once they unite on the same stage, this titanic face-off is given a suitably dramatic backdrop; a giant American flag is unfurled, giant pyrotechnic effects are triggered and, somewhat bizarrely, images of cheetahs killing their prey in the Serengeti are projected on screens. It’s staggeringly pompous stuff, but when coupled with the commanding bombast of tracks like ‘[b]Otis[/b]’ and ‘[b]Welcome To The Jungle[/b]’ it creates an exhilarating marriage of immodesty.
As well as performing a further smattering of ‘[b]Watch The Throne[/b]’ cuts, the duo take turns at dazzling the crowd with their solo material. It’s a tag-team combo that just seems to get better and better as the show goes on; Jay dishes out classics like ‘[b]Where I’m From[/b]’ and throws down the gauntlet by demonstrating his untouchable vocal dexterity and dominance. Then Kanye returns, and though he can’t quite compete with the ferocity of Jay’s rhymes, his physical energy during ‘[b]Jesus Walks[/b]’ is just as powerful. Every time one of them brings something new to the gig, the other responds in kind, and the one-upmanship continues until the excitement level inside the building is barely legal.
By the time they get to the business end of their two-hour plus set, it’s impossible to know who has the upper hand anymore, but judging by the way they dust each other off during ‘[b]Niggas In Paris[/b],’ it looks like they’re happy to call their Herculean head-to-head a draw. For the 10,000 flabbergasted fans looking on, however, ‘[b]Watch The Throne[/b]’ is an emphatic win.