Toward the end of Jay-Z and Kanye West's performance at Madison Square Garden, Jay-Z performed his decade old-hit "Big Pimpin'," an ode to the joys and difficulties of pimping big, nailing the tricky double-time rhymes with his usual ease.
Kanye then took a second to talk about the old days when he used to watch that video before his career took off (the practiced nonchalance of his "you know Jay-Z" was pretty hilarious), longing for the time when he, too, would be able to enjoy the benefits of big pimping. But unfortunately, he said, every time he tries to pimp largely, the results were: cue opening of "Gold Digger" and a close up of Jay-Z’s "oh Kanye" face.
Right after a furious run-through of that 2005 hit, Jay-Z looked at Kanye and said "I wish I had some advice for you" and: cue intro to "99 Problems" and a close up of Kanye’s "aw you got me good Jay-Z!" face. You guys!
Kanye and Jay-Z have been performing the same set list for their Watch The Throne tour, and that bit of dialogue was clearly well-rehearsed. It worked anyway, though, as a demonstration of the natural chemistry between the two rap titans.
Kanye and Jay-Z are like a hip-hop version of the "The Odd Couple" with two Felixes (you know both of their apartments are immaculately clean), and much of the joy of the joint performance was just basking in their unlikely bromance, the college professor’s son and the street hustler, happy to be in each other’s company, happy to be each other’s hype man and back each other up on key lines, happy to not comment on why Kanye wore a leather skirt during the entire show.
Kanye and Jay-Z’s life is one giant victory lap these days, and the theme for the Watch The Throne album and tour is opulence (so many lasers!) and how amazing it is to be Kanye and Jay-Z. Some of critical push-back on the Throne album focused on its rampant materialism (so many expensive watches!) which is valid but not really much of a problem for the live show.
Though it was unclear as to why both the last song and the encore was an extended version of a song we’ll have to refer to as "…In Paris," which as near as I can tell is a song about how Jay-Z and Kanye went to Paris one time and it was awesome. (Though getting to see the word "Cray" blown up to skyscraper size on the Garden’s backdrop justified the price of admission.)
This was arena-rap working at the highest level of professionalism, a few backing players in the background, a mini-stage near the end of the arena and a mini-stage that was part of a much larger stage, both of which expanded and contracted several feet in the air at different points in the night so the nosebleed section could get face time when one of the guys took to it to perform some of their solo hits.
Such is the depth of these artists’ catalog that many times throughout the night I had a variation on the thought "oh yeah, I forgot the ‘Flashing Lights’ was a pretty big single." With the exception of cuts from Watch The Throne, the entire night was hit after hit, designed to keep the audience on its feet the entire time and unsympathetic to your hopes to hear deep cuts like "Blame Game" or "Song Cry."
Some critics commented that Watch The Throne was a Kanye album that Jay-Z showed up; the opposite felt true Tuesday night. Modern-day Jay-Z is a consummate no-drama showman, while part of the appeal of Kanye is that he and his persecution complex might say anything.
But all we got was an extended outro on "Runaway" about how we should hold our loved ones tight and women shouldn't be reading dude’s emails. And while it was fun to speculate about who might have shown up for a guest spot (Bon Iver and Rick Ross on the same stage? Why not?), the night was cameo-free. This was Jay-Z and Kanye's show, this was Jay-Z and Kanye's world, and we should be so thankful that they were generous enough to take a break from their awesome lives to tell us how awesome it is to be them.