Until very recently I hadn’t popped my hip-hop cherry. My only foray into that world was via Girl Talk’s mash-ups, which is kind of like trying to score with your cousin: it just ain’t legit. But on the night of November 30, my cherry exploded in a fantastic ass-grinding soundquake at Kanye and Jay-Z’s “Watch the Throne” concert at Chicago’s United Center.
We arrived early to catch the unofficial warmup act: the flesh-fest on the mezzanine surrounding the arena. Tits and ass on parade. NFL players with their retinues, cruising. Hipsters with handlebar mustaches darting nervously through the crowd. South-siders looking skeptically at North-siders. And a couple of geeky white dudes watching it all go by. It was one of the most entertaining opening acts I’ve experienced, itself almost worth the insane $160 admission.
The show finally started. Kanye and Jay ascended on giant glowing cubes at opposite ends of the arena and the United Center was transformed into the Midwest’s hippest blinged-out, iPhone-illuminated dance club. It was also the largest crowd-generated ganja smoke machine I’ve ever known, the acrid haze casting a mystical blue aura around the two performers. They appeared like titans flaunting the spoils of their conquests (“Let’s get faded, Le Meurice for like 6 days / Gold bottles, scold models / Spillin’ Ace on my sick J’s.”).
I didn’t know the majority of the songs, but it didn’t really matter. More often than not, they simply instructed the crowd what to do: “Throw your diamonds in the sky!” “Lemme see your hands!” “Bounce!” They were the masters and we their kowtowing servants. Their charisma was majestic and totalitarian."You know how many hot bitches I own?!"
After 2 ½ hours and nearly 40 songs, Kanye and Jay wrapped up the show by playing “Niggas in Paris” eight times. (They played it ten the next night.) While audiences from Atlanta to Detroit have enthusiastically embraced this finale, it just reminded me of the time I heard a Dallas radio station play Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby” for an hour straight. I’d like to think Kanye and Jay were above such stunts, but I guess you gotta give the people what they want. Or what you think they want.
After their first pass through “Niggas in Paris," we headed for the exits—much to the astonished chagrin of our stoned neighbors and distracted security guards (“What? Where are you goin'? It’s not over!”). And as we walked out into the late autumn night we were pleased that we fled before the show devolved into a litany of repetition. Indeed, it was an overhyped show that celebrated its own hype. But it was hard not to be swept up in such a tidal wave of narcissism, at least for a little while.
It had been an aggressive, but proper, deflowering.
Photo: Associated Press