Music’s equivalent of a blockbuster movie crash-landed at the O2 this weekend,as rap kingpins Jay-Z and Kanye West performed their first European shows as a duo. This battleship pairing offered an epic, 150-minute experience, with no support acts, and two greatest hits sets for the price of one. It was a coupling so powerful they could wheel fellow A-lister Rihanna out for just two smiling guest spots.
The two rappers initially appeared on top of giant illuminated cubes at opposite ends of the arena. Looking like two superheroes about to square off, their separate platforms rose 20 feet into the air during the orchestral drama of H.A.M. After this grand entrance there were repeated bursts of lasers, fireballs and clips of predatory animals. West and Jay-Z both wore all black apart from gold chains so big they could lassoo a horse.
Looking downwards, face hidden behind shades and baseball cap, Jay-Z was the sharper rapper. But he appeared almost shy next to West’s chest-thumping and arm-flailing. The collaborative Watch the Throne album may focus on his dazzling wealth, but West is a rare character in hip-hop for admitting his failings. He spent much of a drawn-out Runaway calling himself “an asshole”.
Alone or as a pair, they raced through hits including West’s Power and a mighty Jesus Walks, and Jay-Z’s Dirt off Your Shoulder and hard-rocking 99 Problems. They knew how special this was — “If this is your first concert, it’s all downhill from here,” West bragged — and proved the event’s uniqueness with an extraordinary climax that shouldn’t have worked.
The aggressive, raw Niggas In Paris was performed six times in succession, Jay-Z yelling “Again!” again and again. What should have become tedious earned a more hysterical response each time. It was an incredibly bold move from an all-powerful pair, and the crowd still bayed for more.