At benefit concert with Drake, Kanye West serves up a late reminder of his hit genius

A benefit concert. An act of pacification. A rebranding exercise. A romantic Hail Mary.

These are the layered circumstances of Kanye West and Drake’s king-size performance on Thursday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where longtime hip-hop superstars joined forces to publicize Larry Hoover’s legal situation.

Former Chicago gangster boss, 71, convicted of ordering murder and running a criminal enterprise, is serving multiple life sentences in a supermax Colorado federal prison; most of his time is spent in solitary confinement, which supporters of criminal justice reform point to as a sign of a racist and dehumanizing system.

And indeed, West and Drake worked to draw some attention to Hoover early in the series, when Alice Marie Johnson – a prison reform activist was recently pardoned for her own crimes by former President Trump. Thanks in part to lobbying by West’s ex-wife Kim Kardashian – stood under the iconic Olympic torch at the Colosseum to passionately defend Hoover’s case. (There were also, inevitably, expensive hoodies for sale: Old Navy-style powder blue numbers featuring the words “FREE HOOVER” in what looked like iron-on letters.)

After that, however, Hoover seemed far from anyone’s mind as the night’s headliners teamed up through a festive, hit-packed 90-minute ensemble that aired live on Amazon and Twitch. .

What exactly inspired the beef between West, who recently changed his name to Ye, and Drake – and what kept him going last summer as each man sought to outdo the other with the boisterous release of his latest one. album – no longer worth getting into; that they seemed to get along so easily here might make you wonder how deep their grievances really were in the first place.

Still, it was undeniably moving to hear Drake, the main pop heir to Ye’s many structural and emotional innovations, describe what it was like to “be on stage with one of my idols as he walks through one of the best music catalogs “. It was like “a dream”, he said – “something that I always wanted to do”.

Drake was not wrong about Ye’s catalog, parts of which have felt hopelessly estranged in recent years as Ye embraced Christianity, forged polarizing political alliances, and taken controversial positions on mental illness and quashing culture. . Backed by his trusted producer Mike Dean, who was looking to augment prerecorded tracks with live readings, the rapper presented a staggering array of all-time classics in rough chronological order, from the serious “Jesus Walks” to the hilarious “Gold Digger” through the ecstatic “Touch the Sky” and “All of the Lights” to the swagger “Mercy” and the thrilling “Black Skinhead”.

The presentation was simple compared to the elaborate shows that Ye had designed for the deployment of his “Donda”LP, including one where he was ostensibly flanked by DaBaby and Marilyn manson following their various offenses; here he essentially walked through a raised mound on the stadium floor as wind machines blew smoke around him.

But the songs were so vivid – and Ye’s performance so fiery – that, at least among the tens of thousands at the Colosseum, you could almost feel him dismantling suspicion about his motives in real time. Great energy back, that’s what I’m saying.

Towards the end of the first part of the show, Ye sang Drake’s “Find Your Love” (very sweet) and then did a long version of “Runaway,” his 2010 tragicomic warning to any woman who might consider falling in love with him, which culminated with a flip of the song’s premise: “I need you to run back, baby – specifically, Kimberley,” he sang to the cheers of the crowd.

Drake’s run, which began with a fiery rendition of Ye’s “24”, was less impressive, in large part because he focused on the new. “Boy in love certified”Instead of stringing together a dozen of his vintage smashes like Ye did. Although it has recorded huge streaming numbers, the relatively low-key “CLB” – which Drake withdrawn this week from the Grammys competition in apparent protest against the Recording Academy’s treatment of hip-hop – hasn’t produced the kind of ubiquitous pop hits Drake is known for (though his sticky melodies and glossy textures make it one of the best 2021 headphone listening).

Maybe Drake sees the album as a cause worth fighting for; maybe, as people joked on Twitter during the concert, Ye purposely misled Drake by telling him that he was planning to focus on the cranky “Donda”.

Either way, a frenzy is what the folks at the Coliseum wanted on a cold LA night, as Ye showed when he returned to the stage for several of his most trusted bangers, including “Bound 2 “and his deathless hit from 2011 with Jay. -Z which has the word N in the title.

After that, Ye slowed the tempo for a while with “Come to Life,” an almost painfully vulnerable track by “Donda” about the breakup of her relationship with Kardashian; he capped the song with a prayer, set on undulating piano lines, thanking God for the value of difficult times. Then he brought his old nemesis closer together for an exuberant finale on “Forever” that revealed another way to think about Thursday’s gig: as an assurance of two more veterans to come.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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