"As a man, I’m not perfect," Kanye West confessed halfway through his set at the lavish Revel Resort in Atlantic City Friday night. "But my music is! I make perfect music!" It was hard to argue. As the already-iconic MC bounced around five albums of material, complete with lavish stage sets and a bevy of dancers, it was clear that West loved his catalogue more than anyone else in the auditorium. "This is the best you’ll ever get it!"
Divided into three acts, West’s first solo headlining show in over a year traced the engrossing narrative of his career, from his humble, everyman beginnings to the blissful highs and painful lows. He opened the show atop a large crane, floating over the audience to "Dark Fantasy" with calm, focused eyes and a simple all-white ensemble. As he descended and made his way through the crowd to take the stage to perform "Power," not one fan tried to touch him, a moment that foreshadowed the awe-inducing, isolating spirit of the track. Much of his performance evoked the aesthetics of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: a large biblical-themed backdrop adorned the stage, nearly nude ballerinas writhed in tightly choreographed chaos, and West himself appeared a tragic hero, overcoming his self-imposed underdog status with every beat dropped and bar spat.
When he launched into the new "Way Too Cold" (formally known as "Theraflu"), he pointed to the rafters for "I admit I fell in love with Kim," the night’s only acknowledgement of his new-girlfriend/accessory Kim Kardashian. After months of sharing the stage with big brother Jay-Z, this night was about Kanye – no material from Watch The Throne was performed. Gems from his early career like "Jesus Walks" and "Can’t Tell Me Nothing" fit right alongside the pounding extravagance of his later catalogue, suggesting that West’s been writing for arenas since the beginning. But it was an a cappella verse from his latest track "New God Flow," that stole the show, including a nod to the late Whitney Houston that received an immediate ovation.
Now that popular music has finally caught up to it, 808s & Heartbreak has revealed itself to be Kanye’s most vulnerable work, and perhaps his most brilliant. He opened up to perform "Love Lockdown" and "Say You Will," telling an elaborate story about getting stood up for a one-night stand (as a lone dancer performed what was probably the most important solo of her career – this night was about Kanye). West’s love-letter to Chicago, "Homecoming," felt even more relevant in this painful moment for the city, where violence increases with every warmer day and rising MCs like Chief Keef paint a darker, angrier Chicago than the soulful black mecca that West and frequent-collaborator Common have come to embody. "You left your kids, and they just like you, they wanna rap and make soul beats just like you," he rhymed – "I Don’t Like" isn’t exactly soul, but the pain is there.
Kanye West doesn’t perform songs so much as he showcases them, like a proud child showing off a crayon drawing. One of the richest moments of the evening came during "All of the Lights," when West offered anecdotes about the song’s recording during the Dark Fantasy sessions in Hawaii. "This all started when Jeff [Bhasker] laid down this horn line, and I laid some drums over it like . . ." – at which point he mimicked the drum track with an impressive beatbox. "We had everybody in there writing on it, and I needed a hook, none of the hooks was working. Then one day I had The-Dream in there, we was working on a Beyoncé record, and you know he so cold. I said 'Yo I need a hook on this record,' and he heard it once and sang 'Turn up the lights in here, baby!'" He resurrected his 2010 MTV VMA performance for "Runaway," and Pusha T joined him as the night’s only guest performance.