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.