Growing up with an older brother, I’ve had my fair share of holding onto things such as grudges and bitter feelings. In terms of Dungeons and Dragons moral alignments (a more familiar chart of which is here), Kyle and I have remained generally in the good column, except with one another. With one another, we just about reside in chaotic evil. For example, back when the Might Ducks had a super fly (pun absolutely intended) cartoon series, Kyle was a rather big fan and had gotten an action figure of his favorite character. I knew he liked it. So I broke the hockey stick he came with because I had an insatiable desire to watch the world around me be cast into darkness. Not much has changed.
Thus, another installment of how I was a terrible human being as a child.
However, I distinctly remember a pivotal point in our relationship. We were both in on something. I don’t remember what it was specifically, but we had both screwed up big time and we were in deep. Fantastic Four had just come out. I remember because our parents were upstairs, deciding how to discipline us and probably, at least a little bit, regretting the decision to follow the Lord’s command to be fruitful and multiply, and downstairs, where Kyle and I were awaiting the hammer of parental justice, spread out on the kitchen table was the newspaper with a cartoon depicting the ol’ FF as part of the summer movie preview. We were still at the age where, if it meant saving our own hide, we would throw the other one under the bus in a heartbeat. But Kyle looked at that Fantastic Four cartoon, and he looked at me, and he said we had to stick together. At least on this one. The Human Torch and the Thing hardly ever get along, but they love each other, and they stick together when the going gets tough.
And from then on, at least in the realm of torublemaking and discipline, we stick together. Funny how that later bled over into the great relationship we have now.
My point isn’t that we need to be more like Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm (though that suggestion wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate). My point is that there comes a time when we need to let go of grudges. Because the moment you can let go of something, the person next to you stops being that evil thing that broke your action figure or smashed your legos, and they start being a person again.
When I talk about the Yeezus Tour, that’s what I see: a story of redemption. Now that you realize we’re back to talking about Kanye, I hope you’ll choose to still stick around.
I’m just going to dive right into the thick of it and talk about the concert. That may sound boring, but get this: the show was set up in a narrative, very nearly like a stage play. If you have no interest in reading about the specifics of the show and its message, I do encourage you to scroll down to the line of stars and at least read my words about it after the summary.
The set consisted of a stage with a huge mountain, a runway coming out of the base, and a triangular stage at the end of that runway, extending out into the crowd, with a huge disk suspended above the entire thing.
Kendrick Lamar opened for ol’ Yeezy, and if you’re unfamiliar with Kendrick, let me just tell you that he is a rapper who stepped into the game, told everyone he was gonna murder it, and then murdered it. Currently, in my humble opinion, he us unparalleled in his message and delivery, his songs approachable and catchy, and bearing a message speaking out against the detriments of a gang lifestyle, and speaking into the potential of our youth.
So I was already in a good mood at the onset of this show, despite having shown up a little late (the causes for which we’ll discuss in the next part). My friend who I’ve known almost since birth stood beside me during intermission as we talked about this and that on that cold December evening, when suddenly this ominous choral music began to play. When the lights dimmed, and a pillar of light shot down from the ceiling to the triangle at the end of the runway. A procession of women in white garb, blank masks hiding their faces filed out, standing around the pillar as Kanye opened with four bars from a song he’s never done before titled on Rap Genius “I Am Not Here.”
From there, the show had begun, and it was time for the journey through Yeezus tour in the form of five stages (the setlist was nearly identical to the Houston setlist here for anyone interested):
In Fighting, he played his more aggressive songs, those that best embodied the political and social messages he wants to get across. He opened with On Sight, a song where he declares and acknowledges “The monster about to come alive again,” showing that he’s well aware of what people think of him (after all, he still hasn’t lived down that night he snatched the mic from T Swift). Then New Slaves, a song about the continued strife he faces as an African American trying to be taken seriously in America, as well as how the “American Dream” encourages a sort of slavery to materialism and a streamlined notion of success. To put it lightly, we started on a powerfully aggressive note. The crowd went absolutely insane.
One wardrobe change later, Kanye’s found himself at the top of the mountain and he’s going crazy performing Power, the song that first sold me on Kanye in the first place. After all, no one man should have all that power, but he has been more than happy to take it. But remember that he’s at the top of the mountain. That’s important for later. He then comes down and back out onto the runway and performs a medley of songs from the album Cruel Summer. Now, Cruel Summer was “meh” at best, but it was an important step in Kanye’s career and an important element of the narrative, especially in the Rising chapter. Cruel Summer was a collaborative album by all the people on Kanye’s label, G.O.O.D. Music. So when he has a whole section devoted to that, he’s showing how far he’s risen, that he’s fostered some of the top rappers in the game, that he’s built his empire. This comes to a head in two of his most ostentatious songs, “I Am a God” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” which, as you can tell from their titles, are wildly self-involved and self-explanatory. But isn’t that the peak Kanye’s been taking us to? He’s fought his way to the top, he’s built a musical empire to achieve more in hip hop than many have ever dreamed was even possible.
By the time “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” comes on, the triangle at the end of the runway was proven that that wasn’t just a figurative career peak, but a literal one, as well, as the triangle turned out to be a hydraulic mountain peak that has ascended Kanye high above the crowd. He is at the literal top of his game when he settles down and gives a short introduction to the last song in Rising, “Coldest Winter.”
For anyone who doesn’t know, Kanye’s mother, Donda, died of heart disease in 2007. “Coldest Winter” is about that experience. If you’re feeling brave enough to see Kanye West as a person, I encourage you to watch this video of his 2008 Grammys performance, for which he wrote an extra hook for his song “Hey Mama,” to honor her death.
From there, Kanye enters the Falling chapter, one that is significantly darker. The most haunting and notable of these was a rendition of his song off the Yeezus album, “I’m In It,” a song that is grossly and explicitly sexual. During this performance of it, the women came back out, now clothed in nude-colored bodysuits and surrounding Kanye as they grope him and form a throne out of their bodies for him to sit on. Before the tour, this song was uncomfortable for me to listen to anyway because of how crazy sexual it was, but seeing it performed displayed that this wasn’t a song about glorifying objectification of women or any of that, but lamenting it, showing how dark and unsettling it could really be, alluding to the shackles of sex addiction and a lifestyle of sexual “glamour” that could even be linked back to his song “Hell of a Life” off My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Searching was the shortest of the chapters, though it was also where Kanye made one of his world famous rants, this one being about haters and dreamers and how he and everyone in the crowd that night were dreamers, and haters were just dreamers who lost their dreams. During this portion, he wore a heavy, floppy jacket and emerged out of the mountain that split in half. This was to resemble burial clothes, that he was buried after falling from so high, and was now in a state of, well, searching. Searching for what?
No, searching for who.
And it was Jesus.
See, there are two things you need to know. Firstly, Kanye first made it big off his single, “Jesus Walks,” a song about relying on Christ through his walk and career, and how Jesus walks with everyone going through hard times. And secondly that throughout the show thus far, Kanye’s face was never visible. He had been wearing these masks or veils made out of crystals and diamonds and other flashy jewels.
And so after this chapter, a man portraying Jesus walks out of the mountain and Kanye and the women (back in their white garb), bow in front of him. And Jesus doesn’t say a word. He just kneels down to where he is on Kanye’s level, and takes Kanye’s veil off.
And Kanye’s face is revealed.
And that’s when the party that was Finding started. All of the sudden, Kanye is playing these freaking wild hits from his earlier albums and the crowd is loving it! I loved it! Where did “Stronger” come from in that setlist? I thought that the radio had killed that one, but leave it to Ye to resurrect his own song! And “Jesus Walks” and “Through the Wire” and all these other songs that you could tell were really more for Kanye than it was for us. And isn’t that what it should be for a performer anyway? If you’re not doing you, then what’s the point? And what’s better?
At the end of it, Jesus ascends the mountain. The show ends in the exact same place that Kanye had been during Power, showing that power was finally given back to the person it belonged to in Kanye’s life.
So what does that mean? How does any of that justify a man whose latest album name implied that he thought of himself as Jesus?
Well, for one, my good friend once wrote that maybe the title isn’t a proclamation of Kanye’s ego, but rather a declaration of self-love through the lens of Jesus, that we are all made in the image of God, so why treat yourself like you’re any different? Perhaps a hard pill to swallow coming from quite possibly the most egotistical man on the Earth, sure.
But if you met a homeless person who didn’t let anything get them down because they knew they were made in the image of God, wouldn’t you call that beautiful? That is a message worth listening to.
Secondly, Yeezus did terribly. People hated it. It was disjointed, experimental, short, and the majority of it was written and recorded in about an hour. Before the tour began, and given the response to Yeezus, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume the tour wouldn’t garner a lot of revenue, that it might even cost him more than profit him. But that didn’t matter. The story was too important not to tell. (It actually did pretty well after all.)
But most importantly, Kanye used his fame as an opportunity to share his story of salvation, a story that some had suspicion of, but never quite had it confirmed. See, we knew Kanye got famous because he defied the system and rapped about God. But over the years, that message became muddled in lyrics lashing out at religion and in people’s outrage at his claiming that our president doesn’t care about black people.
And so many of us wondered what happened to the “Jesus Walks” Kanye. What happened to the backpack rapper in the pink polo who was changing the game to keep kids in school and talk about how Jesus was walking with him?
He fell off. He became egocentric and he became broken. He depended on himself and the empire he’d built, the success he’d made for himself. And when he was tried, he broke under the pressure.
But he crawled back. Like David after he raped and murdered and took matters into his own hand, he crawled back to God. He went back to his roots and remembered where he’d come from, why he was doing what he was.
And God removed his idols, restored his identity. And that, after that confession and repentance… Man, that’s when the party started!
And isn’t that where we find ourselves every day? We are a people who claim a redemption story, but are unwilling to see it in others. We hold onto grudges and forget that we are all made in the image of God, forget that when we’re crawling back to him after being broken, we could look to either side and see our brothers and sisters hobbling along with us. Even Kanye West, even the brother that broke your toys.
That’s how I choose to view Kanye and Yeezus Tour, and it’s how I frame everything I hear by him. And it’s how I strive to view everyone else. It’s hard to see those who I don’t like in that way. I want to be Jonah, sitting back, bitter at the fact that those Ninevites didn’t get what I thought they deserved.
Kanye opened with “I Am Not Here” and said to “leave a message after the life, after I’m gone.” Whether he was speaking as Kanye or being a sort of “proxy” for Jesus, the message is relatively the same:
Kanye made sure that he has told a story worth telling, one that ends in redemption by his savior, one that I will always see s his legacy.
Jesus gives us the same command: I’m at home, you carry my message. Carry it to everyone. And be willing to see those who are carrying it, too.