The biggest tour of the year kicked off in Atlanta on Friday in front of 20,000 people at the Philips Arena, and GQ’s Will Welch was there to witness Jay-and-Ye history. Click over to GQ.com for his full running diary of the big night. Below, Will’s account of the minutes just before the superstars took the stage.
8:40 p.m. Kanye West’s road manager Don C opens a back door at Phillips Arena and lets us in. “They’re about to walk,” he says, meaning Jay and Ye are about to take the stage. “So let’s go right now.” Don C takes us back to Kanye’s dressing room. Kanye is standing in front of a mirror as two styling assistants hurriedly push pins into a leather kilt. He’s wearing an extra-long custom black T-shirt. It has the image of Kanye’s face melded with a saber-toothed tiger (or some kind of large cat) from the Watch the Throne album packaging screened on it, along with stars around the neck, and the initials JZ and KW in gothic font on the sleeves. Plus the kilt, black leather pants, and his own Nike hi-tops, the Air Yeezy 2. He says, “Pretty psychedelic, right?” We agree and then Kanye’s creative director, Virgil Abloh, politely asks us to maybe, you know, let the man finish getting ready for the tour that’s starting in a couple of minutes? #yikes #noprob
8:45 p.m. Backstage is buzzing. LeBron James is here wearing a snakeskin Miami Heat snapback cap made by Don C. We ask him for a GQ vs. LeBron rematch in Miami. He laughs. We take that as a yes?
8:55 p.m. About ten of us are bullshitting in a hallway backstage when the door to the dressing room marked simply “Hov” opens and Jay-Z walks out. He’s wearing a Yankees snapback pulled way low. Like, Kanye, Jay also wears an extra-long black custom tee with stars around the neck and the initials JZ and KW in gothic font on the sleeves. There is no Jay-Z cat face, leather kilt, or leather pants. He is gripping a glass of red wine. We can’t smell the wine, but the wine smells expensive. The whole hallway goes quiet and stares. He moves slowly and in silence—and his presence instantaneously sucks up all the oxygen in the room, all the noise. Nobody so much as breathes. Jay’s got a screwed up look on his face, like he’s disgusted by his own swagger, and like he’s about to kill a person. Or maybe 20,000 people—a whole audience. Everybody in the hallway knows Shawn Carter to one extent or another, but sometimes, like in this moment, they’re just fans like everyone else.
It’s true. We did the math—and made a really cool chart, too. After scouring the record’s lyrics sheet, we discovered that Jay-Z name-checked his unrelenting power, wealth, and swagger way more than did Kanye West. We’re sure the two of them co-own one big ass throne, but clearly, only one wears the crown. Consult our chartological breakdown for more details. See the full-size here.
In honor of Watch the Throne, he and Kanye West’s first shared-billing collaborative album, Jay did what he always does, which is turn a formality into intimacy and dispense with the trappings. In a cramped room on the second floor of the Mercer Hotel, a dozen or so reporters and editors, along with Jay’s publicist, manager, trainer (!), and assistant, and two album pre-order contest winners—imagine Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, only it looks like this—huddled up. Jay was decked in standard casual gear: crisp black denim, a white tee, white shell toes, and a suddenly au courant Yankees snapback—the event actually kicked off an hour late because the guest of honor was at Yankee Stadium hoping to catch Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit. (Alas, The Captain sits at 2,998, foiling a perfect night.) Without much fanfare, Jay-Z pressed play on the black MacBook in his lap and the album began.
Click through for the highlights.
The History of Cookie-Related Rap Music On YouTube
As a tribute to the Tumblr photo of the day—Kanye getting his bake on, which, alas, is not real, but rather an incredibly well-executed Onion snip job—GQ’s Alex Pappademas assembled this curated list for your delight and aural afternoon consumption.
1. Beastie Boys — Cooky Puss
2. Cookie Crew — Secrets
3. LL Cool J — Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag
4. Screwball — Cookies n’ Cream
5. Jay Z — 99 Problems (Cookie Monster remix)
6. The Alchemist and Agallah — Crookie Monster
7. Cam’ron — Cookies n’ Apple Juice
8. Gucci Mane — Cookies
9. Pretty Ricky — Cookie Cutter
10. Gym Class Heroes — Cookie Jar
11. OutKast — Kim & Cookie