The kings of hip-hop, Jay-Z and Kanye West, descended upon on Atlanta on Friday and Saturday nights to begin their Watch the Throne tour reign and the two couldn’t have been more regal during their performances (Saturday’s set was over two hours long and featured 42 songs). The Brooklyn boy was as sharp as ever, moving between stalwarts such as “Public Service Announcement” with the same ease as newer material like “No Church in the Wild.” ‘Ye, for his part, was typically impassioned, starting with a spark on “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” before ending with a spectacular rendition of “Illest Motherfucker Alive.” Here, our own set of kings, Shaheem Reid and Jayson Rodriguez, recap the splendor. Lift off.
“H.A.M.”/ “Who Gon Stop Me”/ “Otis”/ “Welcome to the Jungle”/ “Gotta Have It”
S.Dot: It was interesting that they started the show “In The Round,” which means basically they had two stages in the middle of the audience. The two MCs were on two different stages and going back and forth. So if you think about it, they basically start the show twice. Because being separated to begin the show, builds up to when we first see them together on the big main stage. And wow, the two stages “In the Round” elevated and revealed giant cubes of video screens. Amazing. Hip-hop has never seen that before.
J-Rod: This was an ill opening, each of them facing off from the opposite side of the arena on different stages for the first first song. Then when the platforms they were standing on elevated (!!!) for “Who Gon Stop Me,” forget about it. Underneath the platforms were digital screens (like a huge cube) and the image projecting made it look like they were standing on top of shark tanks. Are you kidding me?
“Where I’m From”/ “Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originators 99)”
S.Dot: Super surprised to see Jigga go so far back, so early in the show, but I was pleased. He rapped over Diddy’s “Angels” for “Where I’m From,” which is really a wink to the crowd. Of course, “Angels” took from the original “Where I’m From” beat.
J-Rod: Hov was playoff ready. Him flipping “Angels,” which flipped “Where I’m From” (produced by the Hitmen) made the latter sound fresher than a Ziploc.
“Can’t Tell Me Nothin’”/ “Flashing Lights”/“Jesus Walks”/ “Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix)”
S.Dot: This may have been my favorite solo set of the night. Kanye wasn’t bullshittin’! He did his biggest street anthem early on and a flurry of tracks from his 10 biggest hits ever. This type of tour works way better than the Best of Both Worlds one because with BOBW, Jay was doing bangers then Kells would drop ballads. But now, you have Jay rocking with a cat who specifically constructs his hits to rock stadiums! I loved ‘Ye’s lighting and how they set it up for Jay’s return at the end. “I got it from here ‘Ye damn!”
J-Rod: Where Jay was charismatic during his first solo intermission, here, ‘Ye revisited his Glow In The Dark experience. He seemed restrained during the first two songs but it came across pretty powerful, none the less. He let loose, though, during “Jesus Walks” getting his Diddy on with a dance and letting his leather kilt (with leather pants underneath) flap about.
“Public Service Announcement”/ “U Don’t Know”/ “Run This Town”/ “Monster”/ “Power”
S.Dot: To me, “P.S.A.” is definitely Hov’s signature performance anthem. No record feels bigger or triumphs as loudly. He killed me when he did the baby bump gesture across his stomach when he said “hottest chick in the game wearing my chain.” The other moment I absolutely loved from this block was when the entire crowd, including myself, rapped Ye’s verse from “Run This Town” with him. You couldn’t tell any of us we weren’t on the stage with the Throne at that point.
J-Rod: When the screen behind them flashed images of a police car chase during “Run This Town” it made for a dope marriage of visuals and the energy in the arena.
“Made in America”/ “New Day”
S.Dot: MLK on the big screen while hip-hop plays, what’s fucking with that? The King’s dream epitomized. These are my two favorite songs on the LP and I thought it was brilliant that they stripped down the performance for “New Day.” Two MCs just sitting down, kicking the ballistics.
J-Rod: Before they started “New Day,” Kanye, to me, looked teary and then he told the crowd: “This is my favorite verse I wrote my whole career. This is real shit.” Hov, for his part, played a good wing man (he’s underrated as a hype man, by the way, he just doesn’t play that part often). He smiled when ‘Ye spit the strip club bit and put his hand over his heart during the “and I’ll never let his mom move to L.A.” line. “This is my favorite joint on the album,” Kanye said after his 16. “I’ma close my eyes and zone out like I’m in the car. Even though I’m with 15,000 people in Atlanta.”