Frequent Jay-Z and Ludacris knob-spinner Kanye West is the rare hip-hop producer with a naturally charismatic onstage style. He excels live, commanding the stage not only as a hip-hop MC but as a true master-of-ceremonies, blasting through his party-hearty joints and letting his guests take over the stage with equal ease.
Backed by multitasking keyboard-vocalist John “Legend” Stephens and a by-the-book DJ, West commanded the crowd with every cut, from mix-tape obscurities to current hit “Slow Jamz,” from his Roc-A-Fella disk “The College Dropout.”
He’s best when leading audience participation, which never fell into the generic “throw your hands in the air” of most live hip-hop but rather concentrated on getting the audience to sing backing hooks while West rapped over the top. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a clever lyricist — his stings don’t pummel so much as throb, and he drops lines like “most imitated/Grammy nominated” with confidence but without sounding egotistic.
He’s also willing to give the stage to his band and guests. Violinist Miri Ben Ari played a 10-minute montage over the tracks to Kelis’ “Milkshake” and the Kurtis Blow classic “The Breaks,” among others, and Common and openers Dilated Peoples both took mikes to perform their cuts without stepping on anyone’s toes.
The all-mellow encore was ill-advised, but by then, West had already proved that he’s not just a producer, he’s a bona-fide rapper, too.