Jay-Z and Kanye West – review

O2 Arena, London

Jay-Z and Kanye West are hip-hop's current two main players, and they are pathologically keen to celebrate the fact. Late last year, the pair of multimillionaire American rappers released a joint album, Watch the Throne, whose basic premise was that no upstart rival should attempt even to think about challenging their musical and lyrical magnificence.

The record's commercial performance justified its creators' hype, grabbing a Grammy, topping the US Billboard chart and breaking the iTunes store's one-week sales record. This live tour has proved similarly lucrative, packing arenas around the globe, including five nights in London at the O2.

It may be a self-aggrandising concept, but Watch the Throne is a surprisingly minimalist production. With the exception of a pair of spectacular hydraulic-powered cubes from which the duo sporadically trade rhymes, the night essentially consists of the black-clad Jay-Z and West, side by side on stage, standing or falling on the strength of their verbal dexterity and charisma.

It's the dynamic between these two very different artists that makes the evening so fascinating. Jay-Z, the reformed gangster turned music-industry mogul, has long been a model of ruthless efficiency at turning his linguistic genius into dollars. West is the more gifted producer and musical auteur, yet his tantrums have led even President Obama to bestow on him the less flattering description of a "jackass".

These personae transfer to the stage, where the swaggering Jay-Z, inscrutable and ice-cool behind shades and a baseball cap, appears very much the senior partner. It doesn't help the diminutive West that he has taken the decision to dress head-to-toe in leather: he spends the evening caked in a film of sweat.

Both rappers routinely pen intricate, multilayered rhymes that retain their visceral impact. Who Gon Stop Me finds West comparing the fate of poverty-dwelling black Americans to "the holocaust: millions of our people lost", as Jay-Z settles for braggadocio: "So many watches, I need eight arms."

Both have familiar hits to spare, with West's All of the Lights and Jay-Z's 99 Problems being thrillingly uplifting. But they are best when they come together for Watch the Throne material. On New Day, over a Nina Simone sample, they sit and touchingly worry over the fates that may await their offspring: Jay-Z fears his newborn daughter is fair game for the paparazzi; West hopes any future son escapes his father's public ridicule.

The audacious No Church in the Wild finds Jay-Z casually mulling philosophical delineations between Socrates and Plato, before he and West close with this unique tour's usual coda of five consecutive runs through Niggas in Paris. There have been few lulls in a two-and-a-half-hour set: in a hip-hop world where their nearest challengers are the relatively tame Rick Ross and Drake, Jay-Z and Kanye West are not about to surrender their throne any time soon.

The view on Twitter

Yup. Uncle Jay at the O2. say.ly/PLo3lmJ

— Gwyneth Paltrow (@GwynethPaltrow) May 18, 2012


WTT...let's go baby!!!

— Kim Kardashian (@KimKardashian) May 18, 2012


Couldn't tweet at WTT last night as the signal was shit then running out of battery occurred.. But I want you to know it was FUCKING EPIC!!!

— Rizzle Kicks (@RizzleKicks) May 19, 2012


WTT tour #London instagr.am/p/K0wM0ohMyA/

— Rihanna (@rihanna) May 19, 2012


Jigga and Yeezy just shut down London



Jay z and kanye best concert I've ever been too

— Darren Bent (@DarrenBent) May 19, 2012


Tweet us your own reviews – #gdnreview


Ian Gittins

The GuardianTramp

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