I was wearing fresh white high-top Converse sneakers, untouched by the inevitability of unclean, unsacred journeys to come. A slight gap between the crisp canvas shoe and the hem of my tight, black, and somewhat shiny floral trousers exposed a thin dimension of my pasty leg. Tucked in to my pants, which I’d purchased in “the city,” infinitely adding to their fashionable credibility in the suburban, small-town view of my image, was a comfortable white, cotton t-shirt.
Under the “male gaze” of cinema theorists, a pair of eyes scouring my outfit might next fixate upon the long piece of cheap costume jewelry around my neck: three silver chains with clunky green geometric pieces interspersed throughout the metallic links. I had briskly stepped back to my boudoir and ripped the necklace from its resting place in a last-minute decision to add a little flair to the carefully constructed outfit— the lyrics of M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” echoing in my mind, “My chain hits my chest when I’m bangin’ on the dashboard.” Yes, I needed my chain. Tonight was a special occasion.
“Is that your rapper outfit?” my mother scoffed as I distractedly prepared myself to depart in the kitchen. Shit, she noticed. I was trying too hard.
My mother’s skeptical opinion of my comparatively edgy and urban outfit (held to the standard of rural upstate NY) only momentarily deterred me, and without time or will to change, I persevered on my journey. Her snide comments faded with the image of my house in the rearview mirror. My excitement built and manifested itself through my right foot’s excessive depression of the gas pedal. Today was a fateful day, a great day—the day I’d finally see my longtime musical love in concert. I’m talking ‘bout Yeezy.
I’d purchased my tickets to December 30th’s Kanye West show in Atlantic City on a an entirely sweet whim that never soured to regret regarding all things monetary, despite my father’s email regarding the withdrawal I made in order to buy said seats.
SUBJECT LINE: Kanye West?
BODY: call me.
My father hates when I spend money, which I try my best not to do, with the exception of experiences that I deem invaluable. Kanye West is a visionary, a luminary, and a genius… I had to see him live. I had to interact with his legendary persona, at the very least in the degree of my distance to a stage where he’d stand and speak.
My first stop on the day of the concert was (clearly) Staten Island. No first encounter with live rap can go without an obligatory visit to Staten Island or some other place of comparable ridiculousness. My first step outside of my car door had the flavors of Staten Island seeping in to my skin—garlic, sweat, tanning oil. After eating Sunday dinna (heavy Staten Island accent) with my friend Kristiana and loitering about in her room discussing our various motivations behind obsessive Kanye fandom, I was again on the road, this time definitively headed to meet my man Yeezy.
We arrived two hours early. To kill time we wandered around the shiny veneer of an otherwise rotting casino known as Revel (it has since declared bankruptcy). She and I discussed all things Kanye—the old music versus the new music, the fashion shows, the shoe line collaboration with Giuseppe Zanotti, and of course, Kim.
When the show finally began the small venue was only just approaching half-capacity. The emptiness was on account of the time, a Sunday evening before New Years Eve, and the fact that it was Kanye’s last of three shows in Atlantic City. The emptiness embarrassed me—What will he think? Will it not be worth his time? Will he leave? I felt sorry that his Sunday show hadn’t completely filled. Of course my thinking was out of place; nothing could daunt Kanye. When he was scheduled for a show, he would deliver a show—a show that I had been upgraded to watch three sections closer on account of the sparse audience. It was meant to be.
The stage was constructed purely of screens. The ground of the stage was slanted downward, raising in the back and flattening closer to us. He sauntered up from stairs behind the high end of the stage, which being a screen, was vibrantly lit—a stunning white. Whiteness. An all white suit and white sneakers. White sneakers treading on white light. A vision of the sky behind him—his name in block letters consuming the entire screen. Long parallel screens on both sides of him projected his image, and—as I noticed, the smile on his face. What a human he is amongst the electronic devices of glorification, a human. To add to the already theatrical set, before emotional songs Kanye would venture off stage, only to return with a white mask of expertly intricate design shrouding his face.
Throughout the songs, I danced comfortably in my “rapper outfit,” realizing everything I had decided to wear had been the perfect choice and everything I could have worn would have been, in effect, equally perfect. Basked in the music, my knees bent this way and that, my arms swung back and forth carelessly with subtle consciousness of the beat. What a gift I’d given myself.
At some point during the show he thanked the audience. Kanye recognized that some of us had traveled a long way to see him (that’s me!). Or, as he put it, “Y’all travelled a long way…to see a nigga.” Kanye’s racial awareness didn’t stop there, as it was met by the rumbling chuckle of a multi-hundred-person mass—not his intended response. He became more serious. Freestyling, he ventured to ask, “What’s the best way of genocide? Black on black crime takes way less time.” He spoke of violence—the concert was taking place only a few short weeks after the mass shooting in Newtown—the urgent need to end it, and the disproportionate amount of violence in African American communities.
I stood stunned by the emotion he displayed throughout, at times overcome by what he was saying, carefully selecting his words and confident in his overall messages. When it came to the subject of celebrity, Kanye was dismayed. He wanted to be left alone. He acknowledged the accusations, “Tomorrow the media will say he’s crazy,” he paused, “I’m not crazy…I’m just not satisfied.” I felt for him. I never truly had before in such a way as I did then. Before I had idolized his creativity, the newness he brought to hip-hop, and his fearlessness in forging in to the fashion industry. I’d taken his brazen attitude as something to respect from a distance—but, ultimately, I judged him as a sort of caricature of celebrity and ego. On stage he did materialize in more than just the obvious way. I am not quite sure what I expected, but I was nonetheless shocked to discover that in person, Kanye was actually a person.
Though exalted and surrounded by million-dollar screens exhibiting talents I never could dream of, his entire display humanized him. In his moments of weakness, of hurt, he came through as both a celebrity and a man. “Don’t pay attention to what people think because PEOPLE DON’T THINK.” From there, he gave us more encouragement, like an older brother or a father, and he meant it—the enthusiasm in his voice, the clarity of his message. Over the chords of “Clique” he advised, “Don’t believe nothing that they say. No matter who you look up to, don’t take more than 90% percent of what they say because they are not you, and that extra 10 percent is what makes you, you. You do what the fuck you want to do. And if somebody tell you can’t do what [you want to do] then you like, then MAN, WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?”
Kanye was no longer a pop culture figure. He felt strangely, like a friend.
Then came his big announcement. With my favorite song, “Runaway,” in the background he began incomprehensibly repeating two syllables. His tongue rolled and shaped them more and more sharply until they eventually, over the course of a few seconds, became defined: baby, baby, baby. It went on and on.
“Why is he repeating the word baby so many times?” I turned to my friend and stammered, my eyes remaining fixed on Kanye. “I don’t know, maybe he’s having a baby, ha!” she replied. No, no way. There’s no way he would announce to me, the collective me—the fans—such an important announcement. Why would we be the first to know? Why not the media? Don’t celebrities have reps and managers to take care of the information they want to convey to the “general public” which is all that I will ever be to them?
Kanye announced it then and there, to fans, not to the media:
“And though it wasn’t in the plan, God just gave us a whole new plan. Baby, baby, baby, it means so much for you to have my baby.”
His decision to tell a concert of his followers first and foremost about Kim’s pregnancy shows his desire for self-control—his hope to connect to individuals. His method of delivery was direct, it gave him control over the sentiment he wanted to convey—sheer happiness and love. Two things I previously did not associate with Kanye West or Kim Kardashian.
I thought he might cancel. I thought he might not show up. I thought he’d be a few hours late. I thought he might get up on stage, sing his songs and be done with it. I didn’t expect a thank you. I expected what the media told me to expect—an egotistical maniac with no regard for other people, his loyal fans, or even basic manners. I certainly did not expect to be among his close friends as the one first to know that he’d soon be a father. But I was wrong. I suppose in the future I’ll take Kanye’s advice—he was right after all—and I won’t listen to nothin’ that they say.