So, at 6.30pm, NME is upstairs with about 30 others in the O2, listening to Kanye West himself playing his new album, ‘808s & Heartbreak’, off his iPod. He bugs out throughout, rewinding certain verses to which he wants us to pay particular attention. Two hours later, he’s alone onstage surrounded by screens displaying what looks like swirling dust on Mars, freestyling about the Kingdom Of Heaven. The day after tomorrow, he will declare himself “the voice of a generation”. Outwardly, at least, Kanye West is not short on confidence. Fact is, though, all that self-aggrandising is more than a little forced.
As one perhaps must when performing hip-hop in such a cavernous environment, where all those slaved-over production subtleties are reduced to a simplistic BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM, he eschews most of his adventurous, experimental, vulnerable new album (it’s not out until next Monday, y’see) in favour of The Hits. ‘Through The Wire’ comes three songs in, followed by ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’, followed by… well, by many more tracks that everyone knows. It’s effective, but it seems strange – making your most lyrically reflective and musically adventurous artistic statement (some are calling ‘808s…’ Kanye’s own ‘Kid A’, which is kinda true), then booking an enormodome, leaning massively on your old stuff and spending lots of the time doing
‘I really am the bollocks, me’ posturing.
Perversely, Kanye’s show feels like the work of someone who craves vindication and adoration, not the kind of daredevil, ‘fuck what anyone else thinks’ production that you might think he would attempt in tandem with his latest work. Sure, he’s a big star, and lots of folk want to see him, but you can’t help thinking that had he played, say, some scaled down shows with hushed audiences peering at him baring his soul over live 808s, it could have been spine-tingling. As it is, what we get is another good-but-not-special show from a hip-hop ‘superstar’, and not even the slightest glimpse of the real Kanye West.