Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Kanye West Rolling Loud Concert Recap: Performance or Listening Party?

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Kanye West may have appeased his most diehard fans last night at Rolling Loud, but he likely didn’t win over the millions of skeptics who were open to giving the “Carnival” rapper another chance following his behavior over the last two years.


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When the Vultures 1 star took the stage at Rolling Loud Thursday night (Mar. 14) at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif., most weren’t expecting West to apologize for the hurtful, antisemitic comments he has made over the last few years.

However, he failed to do the one thing that more than 50,000 fans had come out expecting him to do: perform his music. Instead, he and Ty Dolla $ign, his collaborator on his new album, Vultures 1, took the stage without microphones and danced, vibed and waved their hands around while tracks from the album blared over the loudspeakers. In fact, neither artist rapped, sang or spoke during the performance, which took place during the annual hip-hop festival’s opening night.

Despite the insistence from West and his followers that Thursday’s performance was high art, most fans left the hour-long performance looking disappointed and confused.

“Was I just tricked?” Gloria Appel, 22, from El Segundo, Calif., asked her group of friends as they walked back to their cars. One of her companions offered that, if anything, it was fun dressing up with friends and going out for the night — prompting the group to nervously laugh before scurrying away.

There’s a larger performance art aspect to the show, Ty Dolla $ign suggested in an interview he and West gave to radio personality Big Boi for XXL released this morning but recorded prior to Thursday’s show. “It’s still better than other people’s shows that have a mic,” said Ty during the chat.

What does it mean to “perform” a concert in 2024, when DJs play prerecorded mixes and vocalists sing over backing tracks? For the last two months, Ye and Ty have made millions from hosting “listening party” events around the world — effectively the same thing they did Thursday night — in the process generating some praise and lots of press for West as he once again attempts to revive his career. It also puts cash in Ty’s pocket, who, on the Vultures 1 track “Paid,” fittingly raps: “I’m just here to get paid.”

That same quote was retweeted Thursday night by The Rolling Loud team who spent weeks dodging specifics on the show. What was communicated to fans was that the concert was supposed to be different than the listening parties. During an X Spaces session with fans on Feb. 28, Rolling Loud co-founder Tariq Cherif told participants, “I’m fully prepared for Ye to perform and Ty Dollar $ign to perform. Whether or not they decide to grab the mic is up to them. That’s what they’re contracted to do.” Afterward, for clarity, a rep for the festival confirmed with Billboard that West and Ty Dollar $ign were “contracted to perform a live performance.”

Even if West and Ty Dollar $ign didn’t rap or sing, they clearly invested the kind of money associated with a major headline concert. There were dozens of stage managers and production and front-of-house staff furiously directing the set as the artists wandererd on and off the specially created in-the-round style stage, which was wedged between the bright red exterior lights of the KIA Forum and the subtler hues of the multibillion-dollar SoFi Stadium. During the set, West roamed the stage in a black jacket and a face mask as Vultures 1 tracks played over the festival’s huge sound system. After he and Ty Dollar $ign exited the stage for good, an offstage DJ continued on, playing about 30 minutes worth of classic Kanye tracks including “N* in Paris,” “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and “All of the Lights.”

Most fans watched the performance without any visible reaction, though some modestly applauded at times. From the start of the show, it was unclear what was happening on stage, and by the time it ended, around 10 p.m., about half the fans in attendance had already trickled out. Those remaining behind took their time walking the exceedingly long, winding fence maze back to their cars, with many overheard saying that while the show was not what they had hoped for, it was what they expected. Kanye wasn’t speaking to them any longer, one fan noted, and he probably wasn’t listening to them, either.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for West, who has hired back former manager John Monopoly and is planning a global tour for 2024, according to a recent Billboard report.

Following the confusion on Thursday night, one thing is clear: If West isn’t going to perform live at his future shows, he should be more transparent about it. While he certainly entertained at least some of his fans, he did so with a bare minimum of effort and, ahead of the show, didn’t make any attempt to repudiate rumors that he was planning to sing and rap.

As West told Big Boi during their interview, he believes most fans are coming to his events “just for the experience.” He further noted that he wants to create more call-and-response style chants with the audience at his performances, but didn’t explain how he could do that without speaking on stage. He said a highlight of past listening parties was hearing attendees mimic the wailing chorus of “Carnival,” noting that fans have come up with their own chant: shouting “F— Adidas!” after the shoemaker cut ties with him in 2022.

As for which artist would open future concerts, West had a unique suggestion.

“The smoke is like an opener with the lights themself,” he told Big Boi as Ty Dolla $ign shook his head in approval. West probably meant to say “fog,” the industry term for the smoky effect created by atomizing glycerin-based fluids with mineral oil. West is certainly right about the substance’s appeal to fans. As many in the business say, the fog effect has almost no downside — it’s just here to get sprayed.

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