Once you take your seat at the Phillips Arena in Atlanta for the start of the 32-city tour of Hip-Hop royalty, Watch The Throne, you immediately see the stage layout. One stage looks like a traditional setup for a 20,000-plus venue, and opposite the main stage we see a smaller stage about 50 square feet. The aisles were abuzz with educated guesses that it was probably Kanye’s stage? Of course, the buzz also included hints about who might be the special guests. The notion that the 6-month pregnant superstar, Beyonce was in the air, as well as a possible appearances from T.I., Jeezy, and a host of other names.
As the anxious Atlanta audience settles into their seats, there is an announcement stating that show time is 10 minutes away. Eruptions of cheers from the 3/4 full crowd begin to fill the Philips Arena at about 8:50 PM.
Shortly after 9:03, the lights in Phillips Arena go off and the crowd has cranked up to full cheer mode and all eyes are on the big stage, where we see Kanye come out. Simultaneously, Jay-Z just “appears” on the smaller stage, and the duo began the show in a monumental way, performing “HAM.” But as the performance continues, the 40 square foot floor surrounding each performer begins to rise about 40 feet in the air as they now face each other in an aerial MC lyrical frenzy.
Jay-Z and Kanye West, standing on their own rising cube, are now performing their first single from Watch The Throne. The cubic visual illusion of a shark tank is the first of an array of animalistic images.
The duo continues to perform songs like “Who Gon Stop Me.” This time, the cubes are showing images of barking dogs and flying doves and an array of stunning visual effects – for a rap concert, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.
After that song, Jay walks off his stage and, about a minute later, reappears on the main stage where the American Flag gets dropped in the familiar vertical way. The entire arena knows which song is coming next. Kanye and Jay-Z start the show together with “Otis,” the perfect song for the duo to perform side-by-side. We then witness multiple smash hit performances from the Swizz Beatz-infused track “Welcome To The Jungle” and then “Gotta Have It.”
Since these two Hip-Hop icons have so many hits between the two of them, the concert is then split into individual sets. Jay-Z starts his set with “Nigga What, Nigga Who.”
Kanye comes back on stage to do his set, similar to his tradition laser light show. If you have seen a Kanye West Concert, the laser lights are slicing through the air giving a spectacular visual to his “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.” Then the green laser lights displays a psychedelic flurry as Kanye performs “Flashing Lights.” The special effects make you feel like you are in his original music video. Kanye completes this mini-set with “Jesus Walk,s” where he does his patented Jesus dance/walk to an already excited crowd, and closes with “Diamonds Are Forever.” Since Jay-Z appeared on the remix to this song, they naturally did that version as Jay-Z walks out on cue and says, “I got it from here, ‘Ye – damn…” and goes right into his verse. Amazing!
Jay-Z then starts his mini set with “Where I’m From,” “Public Service Announcement,” and “You Don’t Know.”
Soon, the Roc duo starts to play “Run This Town,” and there is an anticipation of ‘maybe we may see Rihanna,’ but Ri wasn’t present. The duo then runs right into “Monster,” where Kanye does a perfect auto-tune ending to the song. Kanye now holds the stage by himself as he runs into his song “Power.”
At this point in the concert, Jay-Z and Kanye look at some very strong images of Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X during their performance of ”Murder To Excellence.” They continue by performing “New Day.” Kanye makes it a point to say, “This was the best verse I ever wrote in my career”, and he starts spitting while both rappers perform this song sitting down on stage.
Jay starts off his next mini set with the the classic beat from “Hard Knock Life.” Jigga then goes into “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and gets the crowd hype with “Empire State Of Mind.”
After Jay ends, on cue Kanye appears on the other stage, which we haven’t seen active since Jay started the concert on it opposite ‘Ye. Kanye, in an all red glow, performs his solo set with a hard core auto-tune edge version of “Runaway” as he rises again another 40 feet in the air on a red cube. Kanye continues with an auto-tuned “Heartless,” which has the whole crowd singing “How can you be so Heartless” along with his performance. He ends this set with another classic song, “Stronger.” We are over an hour an a half into the show, and I realized I still haven’t sat down in my seat , or even thought about sitting. That same feeling was felt by everyone around me!
Jay-Z’s next set starts, and he is on the opposite cube from Kanye. Now Jay’s cube rises 40 feet in the air as he performs “On To The Next One.” He then performs “Dirt Off Your Shoulders” and “U Don’t Know” as the stage lowers back to its initial level.
They become a duo on the same stage again as Kanye starts off their song, back as a team on “That’s My Bitch.”
Kanye takes the helm of the concert as Jay tactfully tosses out that this is “The Life,” and Kanye returns with a performance of “Good Life.” He continues his set with “Touch The Sky” and “All Of The Lights,” accompanied by surreal eye-popping visuals on the big screen that keep you engaged with the artists, screen, and music – a perfect mix together.
The standout point in the concert is when Kanye and Jay interact in a skit of songs in which Jay-Z rips his classic song “Big Pimpin.” After the song runs its course, Kanye explains that every time he starts pimpin’, he has problems with…and the beat to “Gold Digger” drops in on cue, and the crowd erupts as Kanye performs his classic cut. Jay-Z slyly responds to ‘Ye that he doesn’t have that kind of problem because …then the beat to “99 Problems” explodes, and the crowd goes berserk!
The duo now looks at the big screen behind them as scorching images of America’s past fill the screen – the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, older images of KKK families, and nuke bombs all displayed over Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” – to show some very poignant images of how un-wonderful America can be, just as the beginning of “Lift Off” plays and the duo performs to the still vibrant crowd.
After hearing months of hype about and finally hearing the now-classic album Watch The Throne, the concert had a lot to uphold with these monumental names. The “Watch The Throne” concert totally surpassed anything you would expect. From the 50 foot cubes, to the laser show and spectacular visuals, and in-and-out mini sets, the pair moved like a duo that has performed consistently for years.
And as for the whisper of what special guests would appear, Jay-Z and Kanye proved that you don’t need any guests to have a stellar show. The pair did the show on their own, and the crowd got exactly what they wanted pure Kanye West and Jay-Z, as individuals and as a duo. Hip-Hop Royalty has spoken, and a new bar has been set. As of right now, the throne is secured.