I delayed in posting this because, frankly, I didn’t exactly know what to say about it. Days later, I’m still not really sure I do. Kanye descended from his mountain top (literally) for two nights at Barclays Center, and we were all witnesses. The question remains as to what.
Hip-hop/R&B has long since realized that it had to evolve and morph into something more to give its artists any shot at some type of longevity, otherwise they’d have to turn to acting or, even worse, reality shows. Performance art and showmanship has become more and more prevalent and rightly so; there’s only so much you can do with one man/one mic. It also gives you a better vehicle to get across any statements or points you’d like to make, driving home the message of your music. Which leads me to ask: just what the hell was Kanye talking about?
His two opening acts were mediocre and masterful in that order. The first night brought Kendrick Lamar’s umpteenth appearance at the arena, which was so-so. The second night was Tribe Called Quest with a little help from Busta Rhymes, which delighted the crowd. Word was that even the Beastie Boys would be stopping by, but it never happened. The only hiccup was that Busta’s appearance was marred by his mic not working. Check the video.
Kanye’s set was intriguing, even though based on his history you sorta knew what it would signify. The mountain on the main stage and the rising pinnacle he used on the extension were both laded with the Christianity overtones that seem to dominate every aspect of everything he does.
The performance was so symbolic and metaphor-laden with the incense burners, a man-beast, crucifixes, faceless acolytes and whatnot you’d have thought you were attending a Roman Catholic Tent Revival (how’s that for an oxymoron?) And it was all coming from a man who spent three-quarters of the performance dressed like this:
Or to be more precise, this:
The most telling moment came on the first night during a lengthy Auto-Tune filtered ‘rant’, which completely lived up to one of his nicknames. He started off with allusions to a phone call with a ‘business executive’ who was interested in backing him on some project but didn’t like Kanye’s railing and raging about whatever was concerning him at that time. Things grew more and more disjointed when he switched to references to filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky and Nikolai Tesla and how “no one knows about him and all the things he accomplished’. Really, fool? Who the hell you been (not) listening to- fifth graders? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure that most over the age of twenty-five have some passing familiarity with Tesla, especially in the internet age. Nice job of insulting your audience, Yee-nius. He went so far off-topic that he descended into a tirade of cussing, every other word being ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’; a clear sign he’d lost the thread. His overall attempt at conveying a generic positive message about believing in yourself and taking chances to fulfill your dream got lost in the shuffle of his own stream of consciousness: “They’re trying to give me advice. I call it free advice, because they’re giving it me and they ain’t cuttin’ no check!” I think you got that one backwards, my dude. Sometimes it’s just best to stick to the script.
I don’t pretend to understand what Kanye’s fixation is with Christianity, especially as much as he opposes its symbolism and influence, an influence he’s still obviously very much under. He seems to revel in his own version of messiah-ism, from the subject matter of his songs to his interaction with audiences. Given his well-documented egotism and the way his fans eat up his performances, it’s kinda understandable, but still contradictory: Don’t listen to anyone, not even me… except when you’re buying all my shit and listening to me.
In the end, as much as folks like his music, the overall consensus about his performance was that Kanye ’bout lost his damn mind.