Kanye West performs at Ramat Gan Stadium.
(photo credit: YOSSI MAMIA)
Some two thousand years after he was reportedly crucified for our sins, Jesus of Nazareth returned to the Holy Land Wednesday night, in the form of a rapper, fashion designer, and future presidential candidate from Chicago named Kanye West.
Long a self-appointed deity or at least a messenger of God on Earth, rapper Kanye “Yeezy” West spent 90 minutes Wednesday night working hard, keeping 25,000 people on their feet at the National Stadium in Ramat Gan with a long set list of bangers and what might be called “Kanye power ballads.”
The concert follows Kanye’s announcement at the MTV Video Music Awards last month that he’ll run for president in 2020. Though he also told the crowd he’d smoked something before his speech, it was still fodder for people to joke that his upcoming visit to Israel was really a bid to beef up his foreign policy credentials before his run for the White House. High or not, some have pointed out that if it does happen, his presidential bid wouldn’t be much sillier than that of Donald Trump or the brain surgeon who said God gave him the answers for his chemistry final in college.
At the very least, Trump couldn’t put in a performance like Kanye’s on Wednesday night. Gone was the tortured, sulking artist, replaced by the guy who produced The Blueprint, the MC who recorded “Through the Wire” with his jaw wired shut after a car wreck, the guy who stood on national TV after Hurricane Katrina and said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
He even, at one point late in the night, smiled.
Wednesday’s concert was actually the second time Kanye has visited Israel, following a whirlwind visit in April with his wife and possible future first lady Kim Kardashian and their daughter, North West, who was baptized at the Cathedral of Saint James in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem during the trip.
Yeezy started the night with “Stronger,” one of his bigger hits, followed by “Power,” “Black Skinhead” and “N***as in Paris.” One of the few times he wasn’t moving was during “Jesus Walks,” which he performed entirely on his knees “to show respect” in his words, though it was probably also a good idea after half a set in a longsleeved camo shirt and pants on a hot Ramat Gan night.
There was no opener, no one else visible on stage, and in “FourFiveSeconds” he sang Rihanna’s lines himself and did T Pain’s lines during “Good Life.” Late in the show, before “Gold Digger,” he performed “Runaway” and had the crowd singing along with the hook, “Let’s have a toast to the douche bags.”
Speaking of which, Kanye is a Rorschach test of sorts.
Many people – especially those who hate rap and hate celebrities – malign him as almost the personification, along with the Kardashians, of the great abyss of solipsism and idiocy into which our society is careening as we all stare agape into our iPhones.
Hip hop heads can be just as unforgiving, seeing him as a highly gifted rapper and producer whose moments of real greatness are lost in the haze of Kanye being Kanye – a megalomaniac with a God complex, when he doesn’t think God is beneath him. Silently, one assumes, many of them recognize him for what he truly is: a seminal, brilliant artist who can’t quite be compared to anyone else, a celebrity and creator the likes of which we haven’t quite seen before.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t earned some scorn.
There was, of course, his running up on stage during Taylor Swift’s acceptance of the Best Female Video award at the 2009 VMAs (even though he was right about the “Single Ladies” video, and history has proven this), his bizarre speech at this year’s VMA awards (which some brilliant soul set to the Seinfeld theme) and along the way comparing himself (sort of) to Hitler.
And of course his statement in a November 2013 radio interview in which he said, “Black people don’t have the same level of connections as Jewish people do.” During the interview host Charlemagne Da God told him, “You know what makes me buy your albums? The great music you produce. You know what makes me not buy your albums? This new narcissistic egotistical personality you got.”
Still, you know that going in, and take the over-thetop jackass (as Obama called him) persona as just part of the package, even if on Wednesday the people got just the performer.
As he closed his set he performed “Bound 2” and said a couple of times, “Remember this night for the rest of your life.”
Or at least till the inauguration in 2021.