Kanye West floated through the air across Amalie Arena, just out of arm's reach of a sea of 16,000 worshipful Tampa fans, and started and stopped and restarted seven songs before he found the perfect time and place to deliver his latest tirade on the mount.
"Kid Cudi, don't ever mention 'Ye name!" the rapper roared from the dangling stage of his Saint Pablo Tour on Tuesday. "I birthed you! … Don't try to say who I can do songs with! You mad 'cause I'm doing songs with Drake? Can't nobody tell 'Ye who to do songs with! RESPECT THE GOD!"
Yeah, sounds about right for Kanye on a Wednesday.
He just can't help himself, it seems. The most important pop artist of the 21st century – don't @ me, fam – he's dying to convince the world he actually has more in common with men like Basquiat and Picasso, that his vision, if not his very existence, is a reflection of our times and our future. And his new tour supporting The Life of Pablo, which features a stunning stage that floats above the crowd, is magnificent enough to make you believe he can pull such hubris off.
And yet when he finally reaches that epic pedestal, an objet d'art in three dimensions, lofted on high to adorn our worshipful gaze – BASK, MORTALS, BASK – he cannot run from his instincts. He just can't resist dropping yet another classic Kanye rant.
His target on this day: Grammy-winning rapper and frequent G.O.O.D. Music collaborator Kid Cudi, who dared tweet his displeasure with rappers like West and Drake who "be having 30 people write songs for them."
"Kid Cudi, I hung with your family! Me and your parents is cool!" West howled. "You know how many people wish they could be signed to G.O.O.D. Music? Get they life changed? Higher opportunity? Never forget that!
"I'm so hurt! I feel so disrespected!" he continued. "Kid Cudi, we two black men in a racist world. … Why y'all gotta be comin at me? This ain't the end of the Malcolm X movie. I'm out here fighting for y'all. Creators. Artists. Independent thinkers. Don't ever! Mention! My name! In a bad manner! None of y'all!"
For good measure, he issued Cudi one more devastating clapback:
"I wore skinny jeans first!"
Yikes. No idea how Cudi ever comes back from that one.
But back to Yeezy. Can we talk about how cool his floating stage is? It's so, so cool. It's like the coolest thing you've ever seen.
West is tethered to the center in drab attire and even more drab lighting, a shadowy figure commanding us all. When he jumps and stomps – and West loves to jump and stomp – the whole stage shakes precariously, as does the rigging from which it's suspended. He's all alone up there – no security, not even a glass of water – and he pulls his tether taut as he leans over the side and reaches out past the edge, toward his cult of believers down below.
That's where the real action takes place, is underneath the stage, where sickly yellow lights illuminate a frenzied Fight Club of activity, with fans moshing and bouncing and rapping every lyric with punkish abandon. The arena fed off their riotous energy, and flinched every time West made the stage wobble. It felt dangerous, like a spectacle we'd never seen before. It felt visionary, exactly as Yeezy intended.
So it was with so many aspects of the Saint Pablo Tour. When the doors finally opened – more than a half-hour past schedule, with huge lines snaking in every direction – the arena bowl itself was eerily subdued. There was no DJ spinning top 40 hits; only a suite of ominous, ambient tones and voices from Pablo. Even the arena's wraparound LED billboards were dark.
And the crowd was cool with it, because this was a crowd groomed in Kanye's own image, wearing a Warhol-goes-Westwood mishmash of punk and street fashions – shredded black denim and flannel, pristine Adidas Yeezys, tour T-shirts bearing the faces and booties of West's famous in-laws. (Want your own? Fork over $45 for an official airbrush-style tee memorializing Robert Kardashian.)
West came on stage at 10:20 p.m., nearly 2 1/2 hours later than scheduled, and if fans were antsy, they quickly forgave him, as openers Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 sparked crazed dancing and rapping. It continued on the infamous Famous, which Kanye stopped once and started over ("You know how much trouble I had to go through to write this song? F--- that, I'm gonna say how I feel!"), twice leading fans through one of his most notorious lyrics:
"I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex!"
I made that b---- famous!
"One more time!"
I made that b---- famous!
Sixteen thousand fans, howling some of Kanye's worst instincts back at him. He loved it.
When he got to Facts, he started and stopped several times, just so he could hear the fans sing the line "The story of my lifetime" over and over again.
"Internet, remember y'all didn't like this song? Now we at the motherf---in' Saint Pablo Tour, and listen to everybody singing this motherf---er! This is 'Ye! Never doubt me!"
Pablo accounted for about a third of Wednesday's setlist, but the rest was stacked to the hilt with unstoppable favorites. Mercy, Black Skinhead and N----s in Paris, delivered with ferocious fierceness. Can't Tell Me Nothing, Jesus Walks and Flashing Lights, pulling the audience into West's dark, twisted fantasies. Good Life, All Of the Lights and Touch the Sky, reviving the chop-up-the-soul Kanye the world met back in the day.
In some ways these older, happier, more accessible songs felt out of place on such an otherworldly, future-apocalyptic stage. But it might not be long before West reinvents even this. He tweeted on Wednesday that he was getting rid of his phone "so I can have air to create," and he explained his decision a little more in Tampa.
"Sometimes I just need to go away and get my own space and meditate and actualize and manifest my visions so I can bring it all home," he said during his nightly end-of-Runaway ramble, "bring something that's undeniable and uncriticizable."
West may always have his critics – see Cudi, Kid – but the vision and ambition he brought to this tour are pretty undeniable. Keep that in mind the next time you mention 'Ye name.
-- Jay Cridlin