The people who gave up and went home must be kicking themselves.
You can’t blame them – Camden is about the worst place you could hope to be on a Tuesday night, and the horror is compounded by three hours in the freezing cold, in a line that snakes back on itself three times before heading what seems like half a mile up the High Street. The things people do for Kanye.
At moments, last night’s show felt pretty close to historic. The post-Brits debriefing has pretty much exhausted the transatlantic bridge-building metaphors, but this felt qualitatively different. If this time last week Kanye was making a gesture of embrace, then last night was about exploring the confluences of his exploratory, restlessly experimental work, and that of the peerlessly forward-tilting Londoners he invited on.
Primarily, though, the show laid bare the flaws in the argument that Kanye’s patronage of grime artists is patronising, or that those artists are being done a disservice in his shadow. Last night, nothing seemed farther from the truth. Sure, it was Kanye’s show, but the deference and respect with which he treated BBK was palpable. He left the stage when Skepta played a revelatory ‘Shutdown’, a track surely set to be as anthemic as ‘That’s Not Me’, and the Londoner let rip like he was headlining the biggest show of his life. The extraordinary kineticism that characterises grime was in full effect, with even JME vaulting around the stage in a series of controlled explosions. When Kanye returned, Skepta hugged him and Kanye bowed, seemingly in recognition of a man who has for so long helped to represent this site of constant innovation.
But if we’re going to talk about patronising, is it not also a bit rich to assume we know what Skepta et al want more than they do? The Brits debate has been characterised by an unpleasant paternalism; a sense that these young men, packed with more ideas and nous than most of the rest of us could ever muster, somehow need the media’s help to make their career decisions for them – or, perhaps more importantly, that they need our help even to decide when to just have a fucking great time. No one could have watched that show and denied that Skepta, JME, and Novelist were enjoying themselves. More than that, watching them felt like sharing in a watershed – like watching a group of world-beating artists joining the dots in a way that seemed truly significant, not only for the Londoners but, crucially, also for the Americans.
Raekwon was, of course, the subject of the big reveal. Given that Wu have just secured an 88-year copyright on their one-off new record, most of us will be dead before we can hear it – but, frankly, when he’s still putting in renditions of ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ this celebratory, it probably doesn’t matter. As Elijah pointed out on Twitter, Novelist wasn’t even born when the track was recorded. His parents might not have met yet.
But the idea that there was some sort of baton-passing here is too simple. This wasn’t the old guard making way for the new, and the sheer shock of hearing Kanye’s productions, industrial in their aggression, buffeting the balconies of an old music hall reassured in the most bodily way that he is as vital as he has ever been. (And, lest there’s anyone left who doubts his self-belief, witness the minute or so he spent arguing with the visuals guy about which slide should appear behind him while he mimed the crucifixion.)
Instead, this was a vitriolic demonstration of everything that’s good about contemporary music. Kanye, just like the grime artists he is so obviously in thrall to, is one of the last great popular modernists. He doesn’t patronise grime, because he sees in it the characteristics of a project just like his. We shouldn’t either.
Watch more footage and see the setlist from the gig in our earlier post.