The 7 most surprising moments from Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak performance

27 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Jeezy And Kid Cudi Joined Kanye West For His 808s & Heartbreak Show.

Friday night at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl, Kanye West let his music speak loudest, leading a rare performance of his 2008 opus 808s & Heartbreak, an eccentric, minimal album now considered among his greatest achievements. For an album built on little more than drum machines and Auto-Tune, West brought what seemed to be a cast of hundreds, including a full orchestral string section, background singers, an electronic band and 14 women dressed in solemn chador-style garments. The lonely, experimental album – released in the wake of West’s mother’s death, and the ending of an engagement to then-fiancee, Alexis Phifer, after a six-year on-and-off relationship – was an incredibly thoughtful choice to explore in such detail at the Los Angeles venue, a privilege the 38-year-old artist clearly did not take lightly. A transgressive work of pre-Yeezus experimentation, the LP reset the boundaries of urban music upon its release (the chart-topping Emo hip-hop of such artists as Drake or the Weeknd would be nigh inconceivable without 808s’ pioneering influence).

The entire spectacle, from the orchestra and the performance artists to the monolithic transforming staircase and even the fireworks – which were used in such pointed, specific ways – were handled with care. The first of two sold-out nights, it was a high-profile event, with a gaggle of Kardashians seated by the soundboard, including wife Kim, cell phone in hand. And largely abandoning rap in favor of clumsy yet yearning sing-song vocals, the album presented a real-time reflection of an artist discovering his voice: that is, West’s not-quite-yet mature artistic voice addressing the existential uncertainty of superstardom, aided not insignificantly by tribal drums and pitch-correcting software.

West had spent the past year shaking off his sample-filled backpack to become a load-bearing stake in music at large: if “Stronger” and the Glow In The Dark tour made him biggest rapper in the world, the only goal left was to be the “greatest living rock star on the planet,” too. Aesthetically, the performance was nothing like the original 808s and Heartbreak creative direction (Think: teddy bear in a gray suit with a paper mache heart lapel).

However, the ornate evening was apparently marred by technical difficulties, with Kanye commenting “This is one of the best dress rehearsals…so please excuse…” during the performance. Performing the album in order, Friday night began with “Say You Will,” as West sang to a woman painted gold at center stage, with fireworks to underscore the heat within these sometimes agonized tunes, created before marriage and fatherhood. But at the 2009 Video Music Awards, Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift to declare that her Best Female Video award, the first VMA awarded to a country artist, should have gone to Beyoncé.

At the end of the show, Kanye “returned cloaked head to toe in a theatrical costume: a burlap bodysuit replete with a bulging codpiece and rough-hewn mask that covered every inch of his body and face.” And then, it spoke: Lurching around the stage with the herky-jerky movement of a marionette, he continued singing: “I’ll tell the truth…and keep running. Much like the rapper himself, the show was a mix of attention-grabbing bombast and biting realism, filled with austere beauty and high-school melodrama. There was no encore of hits, no “Gold Digger” or “Jesus Walks.” The night was dedicated entirely to a particular piece of music and a particular point in time, and fans arrived to find printed programs with a “libretto” of lyrics waiting in their seats. And it took nothing less than an orchestra, a vocal ensemble and 70-plus dancer/performers to bring West’s most stripped-down album to life. “808s” was spawned from perhaps the rapper’s worst year ever — he’d split with his fiancee, lost his mother and was grappling with it all in the spotlight that followed him since his comment during that Hurricane Katrina benefit (“George Bush doesn’t care about black people”). There is no Louis Vuitton that I could put on… There is no YSL that they could sell/To take my heart out of this jail…There are no clothes I could buy that could turn back the time…There is no vacation spot I could fly that could bring back a piece of real life… I ask you tonight, what does it feel like?

He Auto-Tuned his shaky voice into one part melodic depressive and one part unfeeling cyborg, and then pitted those vocals against the stark buzz and clank of clumsy ’80s synths and drum machines. Running through the album’s lead single “Love Lockdown,” it was clear West intended the Bowl shows as more than sonic showcase for a critically overlooked song suite commonly understood to be his “superstar freakout album.” A prop that began the performance as a monolithic white background wall was transformed through Broadway-like stagecraft into a two-story-high stairwell thronged with dozens of muscular African-American men stripped to the waist, wearing white jeans and coated in chalky white makeup. Coupled with lyrics about deception, alienation and loneliness, the record captured that often impossible to explain detachment — and ultimate numbness — that comes with feeling too much. As fireworks erupted in the sky above the Bowl’s bandshell and clacking drum sounds exploded from the speakers, the men descended from the stage to take strategic positions in the crowd.

The cancellation is a curious asterisk to note now, ultimately less remembered than the Swiftgate that caused it, and might’ve remained a simple footnote in a career of major headlines had Kanye West not spontaneously revived the album for two nights at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles this weekend. If you aren’t one of Kim Kardashian’s millions of Instagram followers, you probably wouldn’t have even realized that you saw Zoe on stage until Kanye’s wife made that reveal on social media. They stood still as statues for the duration of the song — a spectacle with provocative racial implications that had little to do with the song’s nursery rhyme-like simplicity but that spoke volumes in an era when #BlackLivesMatter continues to capture national headlines. 808s features notable cameos by four hit-making Friends of Yeezy: Young Jeezy (who lends his street cred to the song “Amazing”), British singer-songwriter Mr. The concert’s extravagant, tightly-coiled production is a hint at what that 2009 tour might’ve played like, but watching it Friday felt like a confirmation that the tour shouldn’t—couldn’t— have been. Hudson (featured on “Paranoid”), Kid Cudi (whose mentoring influence on the album cannot be overstated and who sings backup on “Welcome to Heartbreak”) and Lil Wayne (delivering memorably demented sung-rap bars in “See You in My Nightmares”).

That era was one when music’s stars fought for control of the center via radio spins and album sales; today, just six years on, they lead an obsessive cult of their own at the fringes, buoyed by the internet. All of them except for Lil Wayne turned up for the first Bowl show and all fit with burgeoning fashion doyen West’s sartorial mandate for the evening: all white everything, Jedi-reminiscent tunics for the men and hooded djellabas for the women.

West hoped to Trojan Horse the eccentric, misunderstood 808s through Gaga, a prospect that now seems preposterous, considering where the two are today. Music label to go in a new creative direction – his inclusion in so much of the performance revealed how deeply the collaborators cared about the original music and its portrayal both on and off stage. Most meaningful was the brooding tone of the music, created in the aftermath of his mother’s death and following the unhappy end of a serious romance. As he poured himself into numbers such as “Say You Will” and “Welcome to Heartbreak,” women clad in white, ghostly shrouds circulated around the artist in a choreographed march that resembled a sort of pilgrimage. On the other hand, West—having alienated his rap fans with an album of Auto-Tuned pop and his pop fans with an outburst of uncut hip-hop—had to start from zero.

Noted as “Mother Procession” in a setlist posted to Instagram by a fan, the moment seems referential to West’s mother, Donda West, who died from heart disease in 2007 after suffering “multiple post-operative factors” from plastic surgery. Though his demeanor was somber as compared to a recent frenetic performance at FYF (and that made-for-social-media ramble onstage at the VMAs), West’s controlled delivery brimmed with an entirely different sort of intensity, the kind that hints there’s far more to West than we know. Fans that stuck it out, who obsessed over 808s in spite of skeptics and defended West against those who criticized his behavior, became the strongest base he’d ever had: the kids who today line up for Yeezys, and saw multiple nights of Yeezus. Notably absent, probably to the dismay of some, was a lengthy, off the cuff rant from the top of West’s head, nor a mention of his potential presidential run in 2020. Young Jeezy and Kid Cudi joined him onstage at intervals (as they did on the album), bolstering West’s confidence as he embarked on songs that likely brought back times he’d rather forget.

Then, as the music cut away to silence, a cluster of women in white djellabas emerged onstage pushing a diagonal plinth, an older African-American woman prostrate and unmoving upon it. By “Love Lockdown” and “Paranoid,” at least 60-shirtless men — all of color, all rubbed down in white powder — stood behind West on a stage-set of stairs. None of the songs took on the radically social and political causes for which I’d come to depend on him, and it was devoid of the inside jokes and cultural references that made the rapper feel like a friend. Everything West wanted to say, about heartbreak, his mother, the struggle for the artist to have an opinion, and the public and media’s reduction of the celebrity to a puppet, he said it through performance.

In pure Kanye fashion, though, these raw moments were matched by the melodrama we’ve come to expect from a man who’s showing his line at New York Fashion Week one moment, posing for the paparazzi the next. Kanye led the crowd to sing along to the line: “Spoiled little L.A. girl!” And a thundering, deep bass note launched “Bad News,” before the sound of gunfire sent him crashing to the stage floor over and again. We’re talking about doubt.” These are themes fans hear across rap and pop today, but were foreign in a time when Lil Wayne dominated with a lyric about getting licked like a lollipop. The end came with “Pinocchio Story,” with Kanye beginning the song from offstage until he slowly entered wearing a heavy burlap outfit that also had his head entirely covered. “It’s so crazy/I got everything figured out/But for some reason I can never find what real love is about.” Finally, he shouted, “I feel so much love tonight!” to cheers as the song reached a climax, ending the night on a hopeful note before he stumbled away.

Last night, West’s 808s stage production featured a focused white palette, swirling choreography and set changes, and ornate wardrobing that were all distinctly post-Yeezus. The show featured a live orchestra, a six-man choir, three free-rotating staircases, and a chorus of women draped head-to-toe in limbless white veils. Please don’t mistake this for the very bro-ish ‘his production value is like, sick, dude,’ interpretations of West that you’ll often hear from a good chunk of his most vocal aggrandizers. (Trust us, those people were standing in the row behind us, and almost ruined the entire experience). Our point is that if you braved the horrific Hollywood Bowl traffic Friday night, only for West’s show to start more than an hour late, and decided against using the restroom, or braving the long lines for water and/or absurdly priced beer, once the lights went down and the concert finally began, you were never going to take that restroom break or grab that beverage, and you never wanted to.

He visited the state in late summer to draw attention to the looming climate catastrophe the world faces, but with the exception of one big policy speech when he sounded as apocalyptic as any hemp-growing activist, he spent most of his three days up north beaming. “He’s happy to be out of his cage,” one aide joked. West casually paced around the choreography, letting fireworks, costume changes, and a massive pulsing orb take priority over his own physical use of stage space. After West brought out all the performers and orchestra to take a bow, you saw that genuine smile on the rapper’s face that you so rarely get to see. Others credited the buoyant U.S. economy or the fact that the president had just learned that he had secured enough votes to protect the hard-fought nuclear deal with Iran from being derailed by Senate Republicans.

And while some calls for an encore began, the mass of the audience seemed to instinctively know that there would be none, as West, Cudi and everyone else involved had already given all they had to give. The last thing we saw while we began making our way down the steps and out to the windy Hollywood Bowl path to the parking lot was Cudi running off the stage, jumping up and down with his hand up in the air like an expression of total, childhood bliss. As for other manufactured moments, a snow machine showered the crowd for “Coldest Winter.” But the flakes, which swirled gracefully until they were obliterated by the L.A. heat, added a sad whimsy to West’s powerful and wrenching performance about the loss of his mother. Hudson,” West shouted as “Paranoid” closed and core collaborators like Plain Pat, Emile Haynie, and Virgil Abloh watched from VIP seats. “This how it was when we was down in Hawaii and made this sound.” “Pinocchio Story,” so raw for it’s freestyled spontaneity, revealed itself as the most forward-looking of the batch: West rapped from under a dense, Tim Burton-esque mask, working through a hatred of fame without showing his face—a core motif to the Yeezus tour he may not have had the confidence to go for six years prior. No suit and tie, no sir — today, on what was the third and final day of his trip, he was dressed for adventure in black outdoor pants, a gray pullover and a black Carhartt jacket.

He was heading north to Kotzebue, a village about 30 miles above the Arctic Circle, which is suffering from a climate-disaster trifecta of melting permafrost, rising seas and bigger storm surges. And the fireworks that were supposed to punctuate various high-points in numbers seemed timed for a less complex sort of show, one that perhaps didn’t involve rappers syncing with string sections, snow machines and staircases to nowhere.

Behind the mask, his vocal performance, which has been inconsistent throughout the evening, hit its peak with fearless harmonizing and charged screams, and reminded viewers that for all his creative strands of output, Kanye was always a vocalist last and exhibitionist first. “They tell you, ‘You on TV, you gotta move like this, you gotta talk like this, and you better not miss, nigga don’t miss, or we gon’ treat you like this, we gon’ tell you we hate you,’” he improvised. In perhaps the starkest language he has ever used in public, Obama warned that unless more was done to reduce carbon pollution, “we will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair: submerged countries, abandoned cities, fields no longer growing.” His impatience was obvious: “We’re not moving fast enough,” he repeated four times in a 24-minute speech (an aide later told me this repetition was ad-libbed). Obama’s trip to Alaska marked the beginning of what may be the last big push of his presidency — to build momentum for a meaningful deal at the international climate talks in Paris later this year. “The president is entirely focused on this goal,” one of his aides told me in Alaska.

For Obama, who has secured his legacy on his two top priorities, health care and the economy, as well as on important issues like gay marriage and immigration, a breakthrough in Paris would be a sweet final victory before his presidency drowns in the noise of the 2016 election. “If you think about who has been in the forefront of pushing global climate action forward, nobody is in Obama’s league,” says John Podesta, a former special adviser to Obama who is now chairing Hil-lary Clinton’s presidential campaign. (One recent visitor to the Oval Office recalled Obama saying, “I’m dragging the world behind me to Paris.”) Policywise, the president didn’t have much to offer in Alaska. After all, doesn’t fame kill everyone a little bit? “You ever hear some really, really bad news, and it hits you like a gunshot?” West asked the crowd during “Bad News,” before the jarring sound of a gun cocking and firing sent him sprawling to the ground. With the economy faltering, he pushed through an $800 billion stimulus bill that jump-started the clean-tech revolution in America, financing investment in wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy. Rather than confront them and use his bully pulpit to build political momentum for action on climate change, he essentially went dark on the issue for the rest of his first term.

That changed in the second term. “I think his 2013 inaugural address was a turning point,” says the president’s senior adviser Brian Deese. “He wrote it more or less himself, without policy people, and it really marks a change in his thinking.” In that address, Obama makes the case for immediate action: “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” And he made good on that. In June 2013, he unveiled a detailed 75-point Climate Action Plan, which essentially redirected the entire federal government to begin taking climate change seriously. With the help of Podesta, whom he brought in as a senior adviser in early 2014, Obama launched a series of executive actions that circumvented Congress but still allowed him to demonstrate that he was serious about cutting America’s carbon pollution. Finally, earlier this year he introduced the Clean Power Plan, which will use the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory authority to cut power-plant CO2 emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

Nearly all of Obama’s policies have focused on reducing demand for fossil fuels; when it comes to shutting down supply, he has been far less ambitious. He has expanded drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, allowed fracking for natural gas, sold coal leases in Wyoming at flea-market prices and still has not officially killed the controversial Keystone pipeline. This reflects a seemingly deliberate philosophy that reducing demand is a more effective way to wean our economy off fossil fuels than shutting off supplies — which, in a global market, will just be provided elsewhere. Just a month before the trip began, the Department of the Interior approved a permit to allow Shell to perform exploratory drilling this summer about 75 miles off the coast of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea. As the ice vanishes, a whole new ocean is opening up — and one that contains 30 percent of the known natural-gas reserves and 13 percent of the oil.

And the Russians aren’t the only ones with eyes on the Arctic — as we were flying toward Kotzebue, five Chinese warships were cruising in international waters below. And off to the east, the Canadian military had just wrapped up Operation Nanook, an annual large-scale military exercise, which, according to the Canadian government, was “to assert sovereignty over its northernmost regions.” Before we crossed into the Arctic, we touched down in Dillingham, a small town on Bristol Bay that is the heart of the salmon fishery in Alaska. Kivalina is the poster child for the havoc that climate change is wreaking on Alaska Native villages along the coast, where the thawing permafrost is destabilizing the soil, causing houses to collapse and allowing the rising sea to wash the island away.

About 400 people live on Kivalina, and their way of life is doomed — relocating the village to higher ground on the mainland will cost an estimated $100 million, which, so far, neither the state nor the federal government has been willing to pay for. The president was greeted on the tarmac by Reggie Joule, the mayor of the Northwest Arctic Borough, then we climbed into our assigned vehicles in the motorcade for the short drive to the high school.

You could sense the hardship of life in a place where it gets down to 100 degrees below zero (including wind chill) in the long, dark winters and where the nearest road to civilization is 450 miles away. He spoke in measured tones, but with a seriousness that suggested that he believed — not unjustifiably — that the fate of human civilization was in his hands. In 2008, on the day you received the nomination for president, you said, “I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children . . . this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” It’s been seven years now. And we started with the clean-energy investments that we made early on through the Recovery Act, the work that was done in conjunction with the automakers — in part, frankly, because we were helping them out a lot during that phase — to double fuel-efficiency standards and to look at what we could do administratively in terms of regulatory standards that would create greater efficiency. What we were able to do was to establish the basic principle that it wasn’t going to be enough just for the advanced countries to act — that China, India, others, despite having much lower per-capita carbon footprints, given the sheer size of their populations and how rapidly they were developing, were going to have to put some skin in the game as well.

And regardless of how urgent I think the science is, if I howl at the moon without being able to build a political consensus behind me, it’s not going to get done. And so they’ll talk to me about climate change and in the same breath say, “By the way, we really are looking to use our natural resources in a way that can spur on economic development.” And that’s just a microcosm of what’s true across America and what’s true around the world. And natural gas is a fossil fuel, but the reason we’re not seeing coal-fired plants being built in the United States is not just because of the clean-power-plant rule — because we just put that in place. But part of my job is to figure out what’s my fastest way to get from point A to point B — what’s the best way for us to get to a point where we’ve got a clean-energy economy. And somebody who is not involved in politics may say, “Well, the shortest line between two points is just a straight line; let’s just go straight to it.” Well, unfortunately, in a democracy, I may have to zig and zag occasionally, and take into account very real concerns and interests.

And we probably should have moved faster to a nonlegislative strategy, but I don’t think that there was some magic recipe whereby we could have gotten cap-and-trade through the Senate without some Republican support. There are traditions that are very close to the land — in Hawaii, the water — and you have an intimate awareness of how fragile ecosystems can be. What’s happened during my presidency is each time I get a scientific report, I’m made aware that we have less time than we thought, that this is happening faster than we thought.

The next argument that was being made — and a lot of Republicans have continued to make — is the notion that, well, even if it is a problem, there’s no point in us doing something because China won’t do something about it. Every so often, John Holdren, the head of my science advisory group, sends out the latest data, and I make sure that not only me but my entire senior staff read it. And the last few reports have gotten everybody feeling like we’ve got to get moving on this, and to see what kinds of tools we can use to really have an impact. Well, it wasn’t just that they were trying to eliminate solar subsidies — that’s the spin they put on it after I made those remarks down in Nevada — they are actually trying to influence state utilities to make it more expensive for homeowners to install solar panels.

And what’s been fascinating is the coalition that you’re now seeing between the green movement and some members of the Tea Party in some states, saying, leave us alone. So far, Russia has been a constructive partner in the Arctic Council and has participated with the other Arctic nations in ways that are consistent with the rule of law and a sensible approach to the changes that are taking place in the Arctic. Given that much more of their country and their economy is up north, it’s not surprising that they see more opportunities and are more focused on a day-to-day basis on what’s taking place here than Washington has been.

The icebreaker announcement was just a concrete example of the need for policymakers, starting from the president on down, to be mindful that this area is changing and is changing faster than policymakers thought it was going to 10 years ago, or five years ago, or last year. In fact, there have been arguments that, for example, what’s happening in Syria partly resulted from record drought that led huge numbers of folks off farms and the fields into the cities in Syria, and created a political climate that led to protests that Assad then responded to in the most vicious ways possible.

It will manifest itself in different ways, but what we know from human history is that when large populations are put under severe strain, then they react badly. I’m less concerned about the precise number, because let’s stipulate right now, whatever various country targets are, it’s still going to fall short of what the science requires. But there will be a momentum that is built, and I’m confident that we will then be in a position to listen more carefully to the science — partly because people, I think, will be not as fearful of the consequences or as cynical about what can be achieved. In the encyclical, the pope talks about what he calls the “myth of progress.” And he basically argues that greed and materialism are destroying the planet. If you look at human history, it is indisputable that market-based systems have produced more wealth than any other system in human history by a factor of — you choose the number.

What I do think is true is that mindless free-market ideologies that ignore the externalities that any capitalist system produces can cause massive problems. And pollution has always been the classic market failure, where externalities are not captured and the system doesn’t deal with them, even though it’s having an impact on everybody. And right now, in this country, our politics is going through a particularly broken period — Congress has trouble passing a transportation bill, much less solving big problems like this.

How do you handle this responsibility of avoiding a potential catastrophe of unimaginable dimensions that will affect all of humanity — and within your daughters’ lifetimes? I want to make sure my kids, when they go snorkeling, are seeing the same things that I saw when I went snorkeling when I was five years old, or eight years old. If you talk to people in Washington state right now, I suspect, after having tragically lost three firefighters, and seeing vast parts of their state aflame, that they understand it better. We’re spending about a billion dollars a year on firefighting, and the fire season extends now about two and a half months longer than it did just a few decades ago.

You wish that the political system could process an issue like this just based on obscure data and science, but, unfortunately, our system doesn’t process things that way. On this trip, I witnessed all the trappings of presidential power — the jets, the helicopters, the Secret Service agents, the obsequiousness of local politicians.

This is a long war, with everything at stake. “I do what I can do and as much as I can do,” the president told me as we walked along Kotzebue Bay. “What I don’t want to do is get paralyzed by the magnitude of the thing, and what I don’t want is for people to get paralyzed thinking that somehow this is out of our control. Mad Max will roar back out of the apocalypse while Mad Men rides off into the sunset, rock’s Antichrist Superstar and hip-hop’s Yeezus will rise again.

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