Last night’s show ended up being less about Larry Hoover and more a testament to the two rap titans’ legacies.
December 10, 2021
As Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum’s monumental Olympic cauldron billowed with flames, Kanye West and Drake descended into the stadium like two champion boxers playing a title match. The rap titans have been embroiled for some time in a beef that’s felt eerily similar to the games Logan Roy and his kiddos play on Succession. This show—West’s first live concert in five years, if you don’t count album previews—was intended to put all of that to bed in the name of bringing awareness towards the cause of getting Gangster Disciples cofounder Larry Hoover released from prison.
Before West and Drake arrived, a film depicting what Hoover’s life in prison is like played to the tens of thousands that packed the stadium. Hoover is serving six life sentences on charges of murder, conspiracy, extortion, money laundering and running a continuing criminal enterprise. He’s 71 now and has long renounced gang activity, even rebranding the infamous GD moniker to mean Growth & Development. For over two decades he’s been in solitary confinement and without a gubernatorial and presidential pardon, he will likely spend the rest of his days in prison.
Aside from that emotional short film, there was also a stirring speech from criminal justice reform advocate Alice Marie Johnson, who was granted clemency after Kim Kardashian West lobbied President Donald Trump, and expensive merch “engineered” by Balenciaga with “Free Hoover” ironed on it (proceeds from ticket sales, but not the merch, went to various criminal justice reform groups.) And that’s essentially where the focus on criminal reform and Hoover’s case ended.
The show itself, which was streamed across Amazon platforms and in IMAX theaters, was more of a redemptive comeback for West, whose relationship to the public has been complicated for the better part of a decade now. For all of West’s polarizing moves, one thing that’s not up for debate is his commitment to spectacle. He remains peerless when it comes to executing grandiose live performances that play like spiritual experiences, and Thursday’s concert–a one-off production that reportedly cost over $10 million–was no exception. West’s Sunday Service Choir singing celestial reworkings of Adele’s “Easy on Me,” Soul 2 Soul’s “Back 2 Life” and the Fugees’ “Ready or Not,” while forming two crosses under the coliseum’s grand arches, was a transcendent moment, then Drake escorted West to the stage, a massive mound at centerfield.
Those looking for a Verzuz battle or a Watch the Throne—style collaborative show in which the two performed together and served as each other’s hypemen were probably disappointed. Even though it was billed as a Kanye West show with Drake as a special guest, the hype that built after Houston rap impresario J. Prince got the two to bury the hatchet in the name of freeing Hoover and bringing peace to hip-hop made for some weighty expectations.
What we got instead were individual victory laps from two of the most successful artists hip-hop has ever seen. West used his time to showcase a side the public hasn’t seen in years by packing his set with the classics that made him a generational talent. He tore through “Jesus Walks,” “All Falls Down,” “Gold Digger,” “Touch the Sky,” “Stronger” and “All of the Lights” before coming up for air as plumes of smoke, blue lights and projected images of swirling water enveloped the stage and made him appear as if he was floating in the heavens above the audience.
For those of us who have grown frustrated by all the posturing and preaching and struggle to reconcile our love of “Old Kanye” with the ways in which he’s shifted as a cultural figure, it was disarming to see West literally shut up and play the hits with fervor. And he didn’t let up as he ran through highlights from his groundbreaking catalog that reminded us why he’s captivated audiences for close to two decades now. There were no references to the turmoil of his personal life or the controversies that have followed him; the only nod to what’s going on in his world came during a performance of “Runaway” in which he made a tender plea for Kardashian, who filed for divorce earlier this year, to come back to him.
Drake, on the other hand, largely focused on the now. His short set was primarily dedicated to his latest chart-topping album Certified Lover Boy, which on its own was somewhat hilarious, given that the album intensified their beef with subliminal disses. Though they didn’t actually do any records together, they covered each other during their respective sets—with West singing a take of “Find Your Love,” which he helped write and produce for Drake’s debut, and Drake offering a moving rendition of Donda track “24.”
Thursday’s spectacle probably won’t bring Hoover any closer to freedom, nor did it offer any insight into whether this was a genuine reconciliation. Nevertheless, watching two rap kings command over 70,000 fans on a chilly December evening in L.A. with a joyful celebration of their individual greatness was a much needed moment of escapism at a time when hip-hop has experienced far too much tragedy and darkness.
Original Article GQ