Kanye West is one of hip-hop’s few true geniuses that pushes the culture and musical genre forward with each outing of his. Whether it’s the daring sound of his third album, Graduation, the provocative (or some would simply say confusing) clip for his last video, “Flashing Lights,” or now his otherworldly showcase, “The Glow In The Dark” tour, which stopped at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, New Jersey over the weekend.
‘Ye, as always, should be credited for his ambition. The Chicago lyricist often goes without praise for the way he introduces the hip-hop audience to global trends and vice versa, introducing the global audience to hip-hop at large.
The downside to trend setting, however, is that every so often there’s a miss.
And unfortunately West is off the mark this time.
He doesn’t miss entirely. The giant LCD screen that West performs in front of for most of his set is impressive. Throughout the show, lights cut in and out and flash in the background while smoke billows on stage, creating a visually stunning sight. At times, West moves in and out of the imagery masterfully, in effect performing almost as an interpretive artist.
His entrance to “Stronger,” and songs like “I Wonder” and “Heard ‘Em Say” are imbued with an emotional jolt by the light offerings and West’s less-is-more vocal delivery on each.
It’s easy to see why Diddy would approve. It’s easy to see, too, why his show has been getting mixed reviews.
“Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” with its big, chanting chorus, on the other hand, was muted by the theatrics.
The song, bare and passionate, became ‘Ye’s first street anthem last year. The theme, more about defiance than monetary desire, connected with fans as West talked directly to both thugs and backpackers alike. Everyone related to the idea of bravado in the face of adversity. Fancy tricks weren’t needed.
So it’s worth noting that West, a natural-born connector if there ever was one, didn’t even acknowledge the audience until almost half-an-hour into his just over hour-long set.
Physically, he waved his arms in order to get the crowd louder. But he didn’t directly address the audience until later in the show. Also, at points, when he performed sitting on the floor or with his back slightly to the audience there was a noticeable lag.
For an artist such as West, who craves acceptance and reception to his work, it was odd. You beg for the world to pay attention and you often speak about how great your work is (which, with regularity, it is) but once you have the stage to yourself you stop talking?
The notion seems extremely self-indulgent. Especially considering a concert is about becoming one with your audience; in this case, the die-hards who supported West and helped his album debut at number one and also top 50 Cent’s challenge last Fall. And now, given the opportunity to reward them, Kanye doesn’t fully.
West is certainly brilliant, it goes without saying, and the light component to the show was impressive, but the combination never coalesced. Far too often, it felt like he wasn’t projecting his presence (‘Ye was the only person that appeared on stage until Lupe Fiasco joined in at the very end). Older selections of West’s also seemed stale when combined with the flashy laser show.
Kanye is at his best when, even though he’s ascended to higher heights, he’s fighting as if he still has something to prove to fans. To prove that he can produce, to prove that he can rap, and to prove that he can be as big a superstar as Jay-Z.
His genius lies in his genuine passion to please, which usually is all heart and about servicing fans. During his “Glow In The Dark” run he’s made it all about himself and aesthetics, without the soul that powers much of his work.
Perhaps ‘Ye could have taken one more page out of Big Brother’s playbook and paid attention to (most importantly) you, the customer. –Jayson Rodriguez