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Thursday night’s event at the Los Angeles Coliseum was equal parts concert and a burying of the hatchet, given the spotty, sometimes diss-riddled relationship of the night’s two performers: Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, and his special guest Drake. The show was billed as a benefit concert for Larry Hoover, the polarizing former street gang leader from Chicago who is currently serving six life sentences at a supermax security prison near Florence, Colorado.
Ye’s love of his Illinois hometown has perhaps been one of the only constants of his career, especially in recent years as his highly publicized marriage, mental health struggles, and political leanings have created a dizzying legacy for the superstar. But this week’s show overshadowed much of that, thanks to a stunning set design and setlist of the musician’s greatest hits, including “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. I,” “Gold Digger,” “Stronger,” and “All of the Lights.”
The benefit concert — which was dedicated to raising awareness for prison and sentencing reform — was live-streamed on Amazon Prime Video and shown in select Imax theaters across the country, including the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.
The show featured a futurist, flying saucer-shaped stage, designed by Jeremy Thom, which looked as if it crash-landed into the center of the over 1 million total square feet of open-air venue. The lighting design followed similar visual cues; the colors were cosmic, fleeting like a supernova, and were supplemented by just enough smoke to shroud Ye and Drake as they orbited around each other.
At one point during his performance of “Bound 2,” the song that went viral for a music video where his estranged wife Kim Kardashian West is seen topless on a motorcycle, Ye called out over the microphone as he encouraged people to shine their phone flashlights: “Light it up, light it up! It’s like a solar system tonight.”
Drake later joined Ye onstage for an electrifying performance of “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” from his third studio album, Graduation. Midway through his verse — following a line about his late mother, Donda West, who has inspired an album and full creative studio —Ye ad-libbed a shout-out to the late Virgil Abloh, his friend and frequent collaborator, who passed away last month after a private battle with cancer.
Drake’s portion of the show was dominated by songs from his latest album, Certified Lover Boy, including “No Friends in the Industry,” “Life Is Good,” “IMY2,” and “Laugh Now Cry Later.” Meanwhile, Ye performed songs from his entire catalog.
“I appreciate Kanye for having me up here tonight,” Drake said onstage Thursday. “It’s important that we make this happen. When we were walking through the arches right there, it felt like a dream. It felt surreal. It was something I always wanted to do, being onstage with my idol as he’s running through one of the best catalogs in music, period.” The rapper also shared his appreciation for those in the audience making the effort to return to an in-person concert event, especially amid show cancellations thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hoover, the show’s honoree, was not mentioned much throughout the night, but Ye closed the roughly two-and-half-hour show with a prayer that hung in the air as he and Drake walked majestically down the slope of the stage into one of the venue’s several dark tunnels.
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