ATLANTA, Georgia — Not even a stormy night could stop the regal reign of the Throne. On Friday, Jay-Z and Kanye West opened up their Watch the Throne Tour in Atlanta. While the WTT album has been noted for its opulent displays of wealth, Hov and Yeezy’s show will be marked by the duo’s overabundance of hit records.
The doors to the Philips Arena opened at 7:30 p.m. ET and, with no scheduled show opener, the house DJ played old slow jams like the Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets,” Little Beaver’s “Get Into the Party Life” and Hank Crawford’s “Wildflower” — all songs that have been sampled by Kanye and Jay at one time or another. Still, the subtle measure wasn’t nearly enough to keep fans satisfied. By 9 p.m. ET, the crunked-up crowd was restless and salivating for the night’s stars.
With the house lights low and fans pumped, the multilayered instrumental from “H.A.M.” came blaring through the sound system. The initial WTT track has been criticized by some as too over-the-top and too much unlike anything in Jay and ’Ye’s respective catalogs, but the helter-skelter mix of crashing symbals, bleeps, beeps and bombastic bass was clearly built specifically for sports stadiums and grand auditoriums.
The build was perfect, even if the execution wasn’t. Kanye commandeered a rising platform at the front of the stage, while Jay simultaneously occupied a similar lift that was situated on the floor in the middle of the crowd. Within moments, the duo were elevated in unison towering above the audience, volleying verses from one side of the arena to the other. Jay stumbled vocally, though: His ear piece short-circuited and failed to properly feed him the music and his timing was clearly affected. For a time, Hov’s raps were badly off beat.
But there were no fits and no cursing at the sound man. Instead, Jay fought through the malfunction, which lasted through the next song. While mid-verse on the dubstep-laced “Who Gon Stop Me,” Jigga cued to have the music cut, then finished his bars a capella, buying time until the technical mistake was corrected. From there, perfection ensued.
“Otis” came early in the set. With a Givenchy-designed American flag flashing on the stage’s main screens, the Throne bounced through their fan-fave with a youthful glee. Surprisingly, the Roc Boys performed a number of hyped-up Watch the Throne cuts in the first quarter of the show.
With the Throne tone set, Kanye disappeared from the stage while Jay got his rocks off spitting his 1997 street banger “Where I’m From.” Throughout the night, Hov and Yeezy would trade off, rocking a few solo songs a piece, before coming together for something collaborative. ’Ye tore through “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Jesus Walks” all by himself, before Jigga reappeared for Yeezy’s “Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix).”
Jay’s “Public Service Announcement” and “You Don’t Know” were played against Kanye’s “Good Life” and “Power” in a sound clash of sorts. By the time the Louis Vuitton Don launched into the gut-wrenching “Runaway,” he had hit his stride. He even remixed “Runaway,” pleading with the crowd to hold on to their loved ones as he sang, “If you love somebody tonight, hold on real tight.” It was effective as couples in the crowd, hugged, danced and two lovebirds even made out.
In a comical section of the set, Jay-Z and the College Dropout weaved a funny story line where their hits “Big Pimpin’,” “Gold Digger” and “99 Problems” became a narrative for Jay to school his “little brother” on the opposite sex.
Kanye owned the outfit of the night. After one particular wardrobe change, he marched out to “Touch the Sky” sporting a tribal-type jacket, leather kilt, leather pants underneath and his glow-in-the-dark Air Yeezys. Hov’s black Yankee snapback and matching hoodie were no match.
Every time the crowd thought the two-hour-plus show was over, it wasn’t. First there was “N—as in Paris.” The track’s Will Farrell intro (“We’re gonna skate to one song and one song only”) brought on the moment that everyone was waiting for. As the Atlanta crowd bounced feverishly to the Hit Boy-produced single, Jay halted the proceedings midway: “Start that sh– over,” he barked as the Throne’s most-energetic selection of the night brought the crowd to an apex.
Next was Jay’s “Encore,” followed by an inspirational rendition of “Made in America,” complete with images of Martin Luther King Jr. and “sweet brother” Malcolm X flashing on the big screen. Finally, the Throne closed with the rocked-out “Why I Love You,” saluting the crowd as they moseyed offstage. “Peace ATL, thanks for all the love. Goodnight,” Jay-Z said.
On a night where the two kings put their wealth on full display, lucky for Atlanta, Jay and Kanye West were willing to share.
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