Kanye West @ 1st Annual Roc City Classic, NYC 02/12/15

Kanye liveThroughout much of his short set, Kanye West, joined by his G.O.O.D. Music “clique,” seemed to be somewhat distracted. More than once, he would motion to his DJ, the legendary Mike D, to cut off a song, or go over to him and whisper what song he wanted to do next. During one of these interactions towards the end of the night, the rapper apologized, saying “Very unorganized for a Kanye West situation.” And that’s true. West is known—at least outside of his oft-controversial public persona—for his artistic and passionate live shows. He displays a strict sense of discipline and control over all of his creative work. But this wasn’t really a typical Kanye West concert.

This was the 1st annual Roc City Classic concert, put on by Roc Nation. The event was advertised as a free performance by Kanye West, hosted by 2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant, though the basketball player was only on stage long enough to take a selfie with fellow Roc Nation athlete Skylar Diggins. After they took the picture, with the packed New York crowd behind them, Power 105.1’s Angie Martinez came out to pump up the crowd, as if, after standing in the cold for almost four hours already, we needed any more anticipation. Soon, though, she was off the stage and we were ready for the main event.

Earlier in the day Kanye West revealed his new Yeezy 750 Boost sneaker for Adidas at New York Fashion Week (also premiering a new song at the event, “Wolves” featuring Sia and Vic Mensa). This is a partial explanation for Yeezy’s uneven performance. His mind was likely on other things, and he gave away half of his set to the songs of his guests.

But I think it’s also because we’re seeing Kanye in transition. After clearing his friends off the stage, West went into abbreviated versions of two of his hardest-hitting Yeezus tracks, “New Slaves” and “Blood On The Leaves.” These show West at his most visceral, his most anxious and powerful, but it’s clear that he’s moved on from that part of his life. He stopped “Blood On The Leaves” at the first chorus and had Mike D start it again, seemingly because the audience hadn’t given him the amount of energy he wanted. But again he stopped after that first chorus, not interested in indulging that darker side of his music. Earlier in the set, Big Sean led the group in his hit “I Don’t Fuck With You.” The performance was great, but Kanye seemed more in-tune with the celebratory vibe of the following song, “Blessed,” spitting his verse with no music behind him, a complete master of his sound, and feeling blessed.

After the full chorus of “Blood On The Leaves,” Kanye got prepared to finish his set with “Only One.” Recorded in collaboration with Sir Paul McCartney, the track is a tender ballad sung from the perspective of his deceased mother to Kanye himself. This is the type of song Kanye is interested in now. On another recent collaboration with McCartney and Rihanna, “FourFiveSeconds” (which was not performed, though Rihanna was backstage), Kanye sings “Woke up an optimist.” That’s far from the artist who spat the violent, guttural lines on Yeezus, and you could tell how excited he was to be able to do “Only One.” Before the song started, he told the audience, “Remember to believe in yourself. Anything is possible. I love you.”

Without fanfare, West left the stage and, after a few minutes, the lights came back up and the show was over. Despite the brevity of the performance and Kanye’s obvious lack of focus, there should be no doubt that when he was up there alone, whether it was the opening song “Black Skinhead” or his emotional closer, West is a true talent and has an uncanny ability to command a stage. The next chapter of his artistic life will surely be a pleasure to experience.

Black Skinhead
Don’t Like (featuring Pusha T & Big Sean)
Mercy (featuring 2 Chainz, Big Sean & Pusha T)
Clique (featuring Big Sean)
Numbers on the Boards (featuring Pusha T)
Trap Queen (featuring Fetty Wap)
I Don’t Fuck With You (featuring Big Sean)
Blessings (featuring Big Sean)
New Slaves
Blood on the Leaves
Only One

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About Scott Interrante

Scott Interrante currently studies Musicology at CUNY Hunter College where he focuses on issues of gender in pop music. He also writes for PopMatters, The Absolute, and Dear Song In My Head. Scott is an avid Taylor Swift fan and is currently re-watching all of Battlestar Galactica on Netflix.
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