The only thing that sucked about this show was that my phone died. I’ll apologize now for the lack of photos, Instagrams and tweets. But I won’t apologize for saying that this show was absolutely insane in just about every way. Jay Z and Kanye West are simply two of the best performers in hip-hop right now, whether or not you liked the Yeezus Tour (and if you didn’t, check your head). And when they took the stage at SXSW last night, they left nothing on the table.
Okay, so it wasn’t a “pure” hip-hop show; it was a sponsored performance by Samsung, and if you didn’t have that type of phone you supposedly weren’t allowed in (Diddy and Tyler, The Creator made it in—maybe they got free samples—and we ran into Talib Kweli, Boots Riley and George Clinton in line outside the venue). Chalk that up to reason number two why my iPhone died—don’t think I don’t see the writing on the wall with that one. But when Jay and Ye took the stage—on two opposite, massively tall blocks, Yeezy on one side, Jigga on the other—and launched into “H.A.M,” it was clear that they were out for blood. The only question was how much.
Because, after all, it was a bullshit corporate show. Right? But think about it. Samsung just helped Jay go platinum in a day. Kanye, for all his obvious brilliance, hasn’t touched anything like that. And the Throne hadn’t performed together in two years. So there was a point to prove on both sides. And holy hell did they ram that point home.
At times it seemed like a boxing match with big and little brother trying to knock each other into oblivion. But for every “Empire State Of Mind,” Kanye has a “Runaway,” and the two traded sets of four to five songs apiece for more than two hours, exhausting almost everyone except for themselves. I’ve been to a shitton of hip-hop shows in my life, but goddamn if I’ve ever been to one like this.
“Who Gon’ Stop Me.” “Otis.” “Welcome To The Jungle.” That was just the opening. “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt.” “Tom Ford.” Drunk In Love.” That was just the new hits. “Sanctified.” “Black Skinhead.” “New Slaves.” Want older material? “Jesus Walks.” “Public Service Announcement.” “You Don’t Know.” Posse cuts? “Clique.” Mercy.” “Good Life.” Tired yet? “Izzo.” “Give It To Me.” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” “Gold Digger.” “Heartless.” What else did they even have left by the end?
It was one of those UFC matches that is painful to look at, where you didn’t know who would win but in some morbid curiosity you watched ’til the end anyway. And just when it would have seemed like Jay finished Ye with “Empire,” Ye had the entire crowd chanting, “Let’s have a toast to the douchebags,” reaffirming that even though Jay may still be the best rapper alive, Kanye has the ear of all the kids that SXSW inevitably attracts. Yes, even those with Samsungs.
The two ended with “No Church In The Wild” and, predictably, “Niggas In Paris,” which they took for a ride three times. For some, it’s easy to cast aside two of the greatest artists hip-hop has right now—they’re out of touch, they’re old, they rap too much about chains and Basquiats and being deities. Last night, none of that mattered. During a festival that’s gotten its fair share of flack for being too over the top, Jay and Ye let their hits do the talking, for the most part. No Watch The Throne 2 yet, people, but if the look on Kanye’s face while he was playing Jay’s hypeman for “99 Problems” says anything, it’s not too far out of the realm of possibilities. Who’s gonna stop them, huh? —Dan Rys (@danrys)