Opening Act: A Tribe Called Quest
Venue: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Date: November 24, 2013
This has been quite a year for Kanye West. There was the birth of his daughter North, the surprise engagement to fiancée Kim Kardashian, the outlandish antics that continued to make him a tabloid mainstay. But most important at least to the staff here at soulhead Kanye released his sixth album, Yeezus, an aural masterwork that is one of the most critically-acclaimed, if not outright THE best, albums of the year.
In support of the album, Kanyes Yeezus tour played four shows in NYC, two at Brooklyns Barclays Center and two at Madison Square Garden, with alternating opening acts Kendrick Lamar and A Tribe Called Quest. Last nights show at MSG featured ATCQ in what was later confirmed to be their final live performance as a group ever.
Things got off to a rousing start as the group was introduced via video clips and the famous Tour Guide interlude: A Tribe Called Quest consists of four members: Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Q-Tip, and Jarobi. A-E-I-O-U, and sometimes Y. And, yes, all four members were onstage, giving their all as they performed classic tracks like Steve Biko, The Chase, Part II, Oh My God, and Buggin Out.
Given his health, Phife wasnt as turned up as the indefatigable Q-Tip, who took off his snazzy red blazer and fedora to get crunk on Excursions. But he still displayed much energy and charisma during jams like Find A Way and Check the Rhime. Jarobi played the part of hype man to a tee, providing support to Tip and Phife while keeping the crowd engaged.
They moved from one timeless tune to another from Bonita Applebum (which featured ridiculously shapely, body-painted beauty Stephanie Santiago walking onstage with an apple-shaped sign boasting the measurements 38-24-37) to Electric Relaxation to the hyper Scenario. Unfortunately, when guest Busta Rhymes came out to perform his frenzied verse, his vocals were garbled, preventing many in the crowd from enjoying his otherwise manic cameo.
The group ended the set with Award Tour: Tip leaped into the audience to perform his verse, then deferred to Phife for verse two, proclaiming, That boy good! The brothers came together onstage in a show of love and solidarity while announcing that the rumors wed heard were true. This was their last show ever. And while its was sad to know that wed just witnessed the end of an era, it was also fitting, in a sense, that Tribe was opening for Kanye. Of course, their mark on hip-hop overall is indelible, but ATCQ undoubtedly had a profound influence on Mr. West, whose time is undeniably now.
Anyone who believes otherwise wouldve certainly changed their mind after last nights show. It began with the revelation of a large, white mountain set and a definition of the term Fighting displayed on screens throughout the arena. Once the static synths and 8-bit blips of On Sight began, the crowd went nuts. Kanye emerged, wearing the first of many gem-embellished masks, which concealed his entire face. He revealed nothing not even his eyes or mouth. It was an intriguing choice, but it made sense as these masks stylized Kanye as a sort of Black superhero.
Much of the shows first half was dominated by material from Yeezus New Slaves, Send It Up, Black Skinhead and the crowd knew all the words. He also launched into hits like Mercy, I Dont Like, and Clique, proving that while those songs featured other artists, Ye was clearly the one who resonated the most with his verses.
Kanye was feeling messianic during the entire show; yes, it was obvious during his performance of I Am A God, where a bevy of dancers wearing nude bodysuits lifted him to the sky as a spotlight shone down upon him; even more so when, about mid-way through his set, Kanye went on an epic 20-minute rant about dream-killers and his refusal to be marginalized, specifically within the fashion industry. Fuck fashion! Kanye yelled, his voice crackling with passion and anger. I love creativity! He harangued against Hedi Slimane, American Express, H&M, and Louis Vuitton, just to name a few, and when mentioning the possibility that these high-profile may never give him another chance, he sneered, What they gon do? Not help me again? Marginalize me again?
But anger wasnt the only emotion expressed during the show. There was sadness: Kanye lamented the death of his mother Donda on Coldest Winter, which found him laying forlornly off the raised triangle of the stage as snowflakes fell on top of him. I had just made Cant Tell Me Nothing [off Graduation] when someone called to tell me something, he said of learning about his mothers passing.
There was also love: The genesis of Lost in the Woods, he revealed, was a poem that hed emailed to Kim Kardashian.
The masks finally came off when the large mountain cracked open and a white-robed, long-bearded figure emerged. He approached a kneeling Kanye slowly and laid hands on him. White Jesus? Kanye asked facetiously. But there was nothing facetious about his crowd-amping performance of Jesus Walks.
The unmasking certainly provided a shift in mood. The song selections were noticeably more upbeat, hopeful, promising. The crowd cheered Kanye through his performances of the high-octane Stronger, the anthemic All of the Lights, and the buoyant and optimistic The Good Life. When it was over, you could actually see Kanye smiling. It was an image far from paparazzi-hating, perpetually angry Black man usually seen on TMZ.
Perhaps thats why Kanye is so revered. Yes, the man goes on rants, but he truly feels hes speaking up for those who cannot or are afraid to. He is the outlet for our collective rage, but hes also the conduit for the realization of our collective dreams.
Yeezus walks with us all.