By Rebecca Thomas
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — How many rappers you know can take it this far? On Saturday, the Throne (b.k.a. as Jay-Z and Kanye West) touched down in Dirty Jersey, kicking off a tri-state-area lap of sorts on the way to what some have billed as the main event on the titans’ tour: Madison Square Garden. But that’s not to say the rap duo balled any less hard at the IZOD Center, the first of a two-night stand that picks up again tonight.
MTV News brought you the first look at Jay and ’Ye’s massive stage show as well as the set list when the Watch the Throne Tour had liftoff in ATL, and the set didn’t disappoint. The MCs open up on opposing cubic platforms that are not coincidentally throne-like; as menacing images of barking rottweilers and Great Whites flash across the elevated risers, you find yourself looking for the symbolism in everything.
While KanyeToTha and Young (ever notice great MCs always have more aliases than you can count on five fingers?) were bouncing back and forth between their back-catalogs — an embarrasing pile of classic material that included rap-along faves like “Where I’m From,” “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” “Big Pimpin,’ ” “Flashing Lights” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” — we were marveling at how this once-crooked son of Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects and a college dropout from the Chi wound up selling out arenas. And that’s when it occurred to us that these men, rapping to a backdrop that shifted from jungle scenes straight outta Nat Geo to iconic images of Malcolm and MLK, are simply the embodiment of the American Dream.
And it’s a point the pair clearly wanted to drive home. As the bittersweet Frank Ocean-serviced hook from “Made In America” played overhead, Hov (in his signature Yankee snapback, American flag handkerchief poking from his back pocket) and Yeezy (in Givenchy jacket and that leather kilt) turned their backs to the crowd to watch projections of savage Civil Rights-era turmoil.
“We’re living our dream tonight,” Jay said with ’Ye at his side. The stage lights had faded to black with the arena illuminated by a sea of BIC lighters and iPhones. “That light represents your dream, know that they can come true,” he continued. The man who went from chopping grams to chopping verses then asked us to salute all those who came before, who poured “blood, sweat and tears” to make it possible for the Roc duo to have arrived at their rarefied perch.
After a rock-tinged rendition of Jay’s “99 Problems,” the strains of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” provided the soundtrack for another politically charged montage — this one with heartbreaking looks at Katrina-ravaged New Orleans and a handful of man-made disasters. All of that gave way to the spooky 88 Keys production “No Church in the Wild,” with OF’s resident crooner Ocean doing vocal duties again via a track.
Still, even with all of the thought-provoking moments that push the show along, this run is emphatically about triumph. An exuberant Kanye and Jay recreated the “Otis” clip, complete with the thrones-and-stripes flag suspended behind them. Anyone with a ticket to this jaunt will have a hard time arguing that Jay isn’t the greatest living rapper of our time. He’d make subtle adjustments to his snapback, each gesture like clicking an on-switch for Jay to spit another dizzyingly dense pack of verses, sometimes a capella. And ’Ye, who once lobbied the Roc-A-Fella boss for a chain and a spot on the lineup, has more than come up. They say you have to kill your gods to succeed: While West traded onstage glances and grins with Hov that seemed to hint he’s still kinda pinching himself about the company he keeps, he knows we’ve all finally decided to let him be Great.
“If you escaped what I escaped, you’d be in Paris gettin’ f—ed up too!” Jay declared on “N—as In Paris.” Anyone who’s ever walked the stretch of Flushing Avenue that’s home to BK’s still-striving Marcy has a notion of what the Roc Nation mogul “escaped.” “I’m supposed to be locked up too,” he admits on the song. Maybe that’s why the dynamic duo capped the raucuous two-hour-plus event by repeatedly running through the infectious Hit Boy track, even hilariously dusting off each other’s outergarments on the “What’s that jacket, Margiela?” line.
Not bad, huh, for some rappers?
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