|Jay-Z and Kanye West performed at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Nov. 23. (Stan Behal/QMI Agency)
Why have just one world-class rapper with swagger and style to burn when you can have two?
That seems to be the thinking behind the current linking of rap royalty Jay-Z and Kanye West, both on the road and in the recording studio.
The two formidable rappers - who have worked on each others' albums previously - have hooked up for their Watch The Throne tour, named after their collaborative 2011 album of the same name, and pulled into the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night in front of about 16,000 fans for the first of two highly anticipated back-to-back shows.
It was kind of impossible to keep your eyes off the two charismatic, handsome men as they first appeared on opposing satellite stages on the floor while their small band - one guy on turntables, and a guitarist and pianist as far as I could tell - remained in the dark on the main stage.
West was the flashier dresser in a black leather skirt with black leather leggings, while Jay-Z appeared in a baseball hat (his beloved Yankees), t-shirt and pants. (His pregnant wife Beyonce was supposed to be in the crowd.)
“Yo Toronto! Are y’all ready?” said Jay-Z, the chattier of the two.
However, the real wow factor came when their satellite stages rose up by the second new song, Who Gon Stop Me, and visuals of snarling rottweilers and sharks on the prowl in the deep, blue sea, were projected onto the four sides of each cube while laser lights appeared overhead.
It was scary cool.
By the third song, Otis, another Watch The Throne cut featuring Otis Redding vocals, an enormous American flag had unfurled on stage giving the two rappers time to join each other on the main stage for the first time amid fire while their larger-than-life images appeared on two huge side-by-side video screens.
For the rest of the night it was either them performing alone or together, either their collaborations or solo hits, in an action-packed, marathon show that stretched over some 40 songs and two hours and 20 minutes.
It never really let up in pace or energy.
West delivered the first highlight of the night with the trio of Jesus Walks - which saw him down on his knees - All Falls Down, and Diamonds From Sierra Leone and pull out all the stops again later in the show with Power, and another threesome - Runaway, Heartless, and Stronger, the latter featuring him back on one of those satellite stages all lit up in red or blue lights.
And when the golden light show failed to kick in twice during All Of The Lights, West stopped the song each time, until it kicked in the third time.
“I want people to get what they paid for!” he screamed.
Otherwise, the early kill-or-be-killed theme continued visually with images of leopards projected during Welcome to the Jungle, and lions and tigers and bears - oh my! - during Monster with both rappers on stage for both tunes.
But it was when someone threw a bra on stage while they performed Monster that both men smiled but said nothing.
The imagery turned to more thoughtful subjects like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X during another new tune, Made In America, and jet fighters and eagles during West’s own Touch The Sky.
“We’re living our dream!” said Jay-Z, who got his own moments in the spotlight with Run This Town, Hard Knock Life, and Empire State Of Mind, which all had the crowd in major sing-along mode.
His solo turns on Onto The Next One and Dirt Off Your Shoulders, with him back on the other satellite stage bathed in green lights and featuring his silhouette, along with I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me), were also memorable.
Towards the end of the night, the two rappers shared the stage again for another great trio of tunes - West’s Golddigger, Jay-Z’s 99 Problems and their collaborative Ni**as in Paris.
When they finally exited, West was in a Toronto Blue Jays baseball hat and Jay-Z proclaimed to the crowd, all Ringo-like but without the Liverpool accent: “Peace and love.”