Yeezus is rising again. This morning, Kanye West announced a 23-date fall tour—his first solo tour since the Glow In The Dark tour (Rihanna, Lupe Fiasco, N.E.R.D. and Nas joined him) back in 2008. Since then, he’s cancelled one tour with Lady GaGa, and embarked on another Jay-Z. Kanye West tours when he wants to, not necessarily because he has an album in stores—nothing came out of the releases of 808s & Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, or Cruel Summer. Above that, when he does decide that he’s bothered enough to tour off of the strength of new music, he doesn’t bring along sideshow acts who the label throws on his bill. He brings out the best and brightest—legends, or legends-in-the-making in their own right.
Kanye isn’t the only member of the hip-hop ruling class who’s touring this fall. Jay-Z announced his own full North American Magna Carta Holy Grail tour shortly after Kanye did, even after spending the summer in bunk beds with Justin Timberlake. To back Nothing Was The Same, Drake is asking us “Would You Like A Tour?” and going ahead with one despite the hypothetical. But where’s Kendrick Lamar in all of this? The kid who’s released the only instant classic in this young decade? The King of New York. The man with “the verse.” Where’s his new album? His new tour?
He’s getting a new tour, but as Kanye’s opener. For 18 of the 23 Yeezus tour dates, Kendrick will be joining Kanye on the DONDA™ PJ™. Although hip-hop conspiracy theorists can speculate as to why Kendrick is going to be absent from the two New York legs of the tour, Kendrick’s decision to cozy up with Kanye as opposed to continuing his solo touring is momentous. It’s either a cop-out or a statement of intent for something much larger.
Kendrick is already commanding $70+ for headlining shows, is the unanimous Best Rapper Right Now, and could easily go out on his own, sell out 30 venues this fall, and continue to assert his status as the Leader of the New School while concurrently pushing the likes of Kanye, Jay, Eminem, and Lil Wayne out as elites in the mainstream hip-hop conscious. Those guys are either past their sell-by dates, more concerned with the marketability of their art than their own progression, or weirding out old fans. Hip-hop can’t collectively rally around any of the 2000s’ dominant artists anymore, but they can around Kendrick. For hip-hop heads, he’s the most talented and most accessible rapper out today, and unlike Drake, he doesn’t have any of the proverbial “soft” or “fake” tags.
So why the fuck would Kendrick—a rapper with a divergent fanbase (mostly youths and college kids/what Kanye had in the 2000s) to Kanye’s (anyone who grew up with him and took the plunge down his “Dark Twisted rabbit hole”)—decide to join the Yeezus tour? Wouldn’t it be better to propel his own brand—a message, lifestyle, and aesthetic which is so polar to Kanye’s that I wonder if he listened to “I’m In It” before agreeing to the tour—than to associate himself with Kanye’s monster? Mr. White Tees and Nike Cortez’s on tour with this guy just doesn’t add up.
If anything, it’s a power grab for both parties. Bundled with his appearance at Drake’s OVO Fest, Kanye once again proves that he’s got his finger on the pulse of hip-hop, even if his albums end up being 2-3 years ahead of their time in practice. That he can make whatever music he wants, fuck and settle down with the most infamous yet famous-for-what woman of the Internet age, say what he wants to whomever, and still make it out of the fire as hip-hop’s It guy. For Kendrick, this papal blessing of a tour gives him an even wider legitimacy—one that transcends hip-hop and touches on America’s celebrity culture—and shows that he’s worthy of having his name on the same tour poster as the biggest entertainer of his generation. You can’t reach Kanye’s levels without a co-sign from the man first. Simply put, real recognize real.
Being the best at rap can only take you so far. Kendrick has been digesting and capitalizing on Good Kid, m.A.A.D. City for almost a year now. Perhaps he sees that Drake has fast-tracked himself to claim Kanye’s crown, and doesn’t want to get left behind just because those two guys sing really nicely with auto-tune. We’ve all witnessed what Kanye West has done with himself with his riches, women, status, and music, and what that’s all amounted to. Kendrick wants to follow the leader, but have his back-turned so he can AK-spray the rest of the game as they follow him. Kendrick didn’t name Kanye on “Control,” but he didn’t have to. Kanye wasn’t his competition then. Now he is.