Subtlety has never been The Throne’s strong suit. The supergroup, separately known as hip hop juggernauts Jay-Z and Kanye West, released an album earlier this year full of showy, convoluted beats overlayed with equally flashy, I’m-richer-and-cooler-than-you verses. So, when talks began circulating of a joint tour, imaginations went wild.
Both are known for pretty spectacular stage shows. Jay-Z exhibits more stage presence than most rappers, which is intensified with lighting and the use of a full backing band. West's show is filled with all kinds of theatrics not limited to a full ballerina troupe or tailoring an entire show around a spaceship. So, a lavish spectacle of ancient Roman proportions was something many fans anticipated.
But, like the true innovators they are, The Throne went completely left. The roughly two-hour show in Baltimore, Maryland was surprisingly no frills. Just two MCs, a few props and lights and a DJ.
Kicking off the show with “H.A.M,” West first appeared rapping along to the first verse and Jay-Z showed up in the middle of the arena. Then, as if to demonstrate their station in the rap game, they rose above the crowd to launch into a set that included "Who Gon Stop Me" and "Otis" with an extended intro by the track's namesake.
Although, the show was about The Throne, both performers couldn't get away with not performing stuff from their extensive solo catalogs. Jigga was the first one to fly solo opening up his set with "Where I'm From", which isn't necessarily a banner hit from him. After breezing through a rapid-fire version, call and response version of "N*gga What, N*gga Who (Originator 99)," it was time for Kanye.
The crowd went crazy at the opening of "Can't Tell Me Nothin" and the momentum stayed at hysteria levels through his solo set. His co-headliner showed up in the nick of time to pull off his guest appearance on Yeezy's "Diamonds (Remix)." The show would continue with more back and forth performances and subtle things like Jigga outlining a baby bump while rapping his "got the hottest chick in the game wearin' my chain" line in "Public Service Announcement." Fans also got to see some of 'Ye's greatest moments from My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy including "Power" and the two's verses from "Monster."
One glaringly obvious thing about this show was that it wasn't about proving a point. Just like in the "Otis" video, Jay and Ye were having fun. It was all over Jay-Z's face. Usually the archetype of cool, he was smiling the whole time. He even showed a little color by doing the wop during the duo's "That's My Bitch." Who would have thought we'd ever see the Jigga man do any kind of dance? The audience could tell that this was a collaboration not out of convenience, but of a true admiration combined with friendship. The bromance was strong, friends. So much so that Jay even played hypeman to Ye on a few songs.
Perhaps the best part of the show was the end. Not in a bad way, however. After working the crowd into a frenzy with hits back after back, they rounded out the night with the unofficial hit “N*ggas In Paris” not once but three times.
No momentum was lost either time, just high-brow ignance. Immediately after the two circled back around to the Black Album era to reminisce on a time before Yeezy was known for making hot beats and Jay was supposed to retire. “Encore” blasts through the speakers and the two talk a bit about the making of the song and launch into a brightly lit, high energy rendition.
It was a fitting ending to the spectacle. While the crowd follows through on the prescribed Hova chants, Jay implores them to show his tour mate and friend some love. West beams like a kid who’s living his dream. Grand opening. Grand closing, indeed.