Six months after completing the US leg, rap royalty Jay-Z and Kanye West finally bring their highly anticipated Watch The Throne Tour to UK soil. And it’s undoubtedly worth the wait.
It’s not hard to see why Yeezy and HOV refer to themselves as “The Throne”, as cocky as it may be. Jay-Z, an emerging billionaire, has more US number one albums than Elvis Presley, with a successful career spanning over fifteen years. And his protégée Kanye West is close on his heels. While at times it’s easy to dislike Mr West, the flamboyant rapper’s musical genius often overrides his ego-fuelled gaffes. So it’s no surprise the rap juggernauts joint show is the hottest ticket in town, with celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessie J in attendance.
The 20,000-strong crowd patiently waits as the reigning monarchs of hip-hop are fashionably late to hit the stage at London’s O2 (as part of five consecutive shows at the Greenwich venue). But fans are unfazed by the 45 minute wait, as the anticipation only fuels excitement. Suddenly, the music dips and the venue erupts into frenzied applause, as the superstar rappers emerge. Sticking to their “all black everything” motto, both are decked out in black clothing from head to toe – with West donning what appears to be a skirt over his leather trousers. And in an intriguingly unique entrance, West, 34, and 42-year-old Jigga enter the stage on boxes from opposite sides of the venue, spitting back and forth with one another, opening the historic night with ‘H.A.M’.
Both stages slowly rise, with images of barking dogs and wildlife projecting from each, as the duo performs tracks from their smash hit joint album. As the intro to Otis Redding’s ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ plays, Jay sprints to the main stage to join his collaborator, and the pair break into the LP’s leading single ‘Otis’. Accompanied with a giant American flag draped at the back, it’s at this point the show really gets underway.
The tour may be called Watch The Throne, but both MCs – to the delight of fans – play numerous tracks from their impressive back catalogue of hits. Jay-Z’s ‘Jigga What, Jigga Who’ and ‘Big Pimpin’’ takes older fans back to the Roc-A-Fella heyday, while West’s ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ and ‘All Falls Down’ garners rapturous screams and excited shape-throwing gestures.
Showcasing their natural stage chemistry, Yeezy assists Jay during a rendition of ‘99 Problems’, while HOV returns the favour on West’s ‘Gold Digger’. A personal highlight comes when the pair takes it down a notch, grabbing a seat, whilst casually conversing, reminiscing about earlier days –which proves a great intro to Jigga’s breakthrough 1997 single ‘Hard Knock Life’.
Despite its wide success, some critics have questioned the ‘Watch The Throne’ album, claiming the record’s over-the-top boasting of wealth, designer garments and private jet lifestyle, in a time where most are feeling the pinch of the credit crunch, suggests the rap icons are slowly losing touch with their original hip hop fanbase. And while elements of that cannot be disputed, the albums triumph (both commercially and within the hip hop scene) proves rap fans (and pop fans alike) are very much so onboard with the duo’s “luxury rap”. And The O2 gig is a testament to that.
The US stars close their breathtaking two-hour set with an extended version of ‘N****s In Paris’ – which is reloaded an astonishing FOUR times, providing a perfect encore to what is quite frankly an EPIC show. Jay and Kanye are well and truly sitting on top of the hip hop throne, with no contenders remotely insight of knocking them off anytime soon.
Words by Vanessa Laker