Kanye West’s Chaotic Sunday
By JON CARAMANICA, reposted from New York Times (here)
Just past 2 a.m. Monday, Kanye West poked his head through the roof of a car heading north on Third Avenue in the East Village and surveyed what he had wrought. On East 11th Street, outside Webster Hall, maybe a couple of thousand young people were clustered — in the street, on the sidewalks, on stoops, on balconies, sitting atop Postal Service trucks — waiting for a just-announced concert that was beginning to seem as if it might not happen. When Mr. West rode by, a few hundred of them spied him and peeled off, surrounding his car, taking pictures, reaching for handshakes.
After a minute or so, he drove off — the Kanye West concert was not to be, an anticlimactic end to a roller coaster day.
The city gives, and the city takes away. One of the truest and most persistent charms of New York night life is its unpredictability. Certainly, as severe thunderstorms were bearing down on the New York area Sunday evening, the idea that the night might end with throngs of young people congregating on downtown streets awaiting their hero would have seemed ludicrous. But with a couple of tweets, Mr. West summoned a gathering out of thin air, a reminder that, for the right person, the city can be activated at any moment.
The congregation was — as spontaneous large-scale eruptions of fandom go — exceedingly low-key. There were cheers when a familiar face, like ASAP Rocky’s, made his way through the crowd. People posed for selfies with the sea of fans as a backdrop. Couples kissed amid the hubbub. For about two hours, police officers — whose boss, Commissioner William J. Bratton, had made inflammatory comments about rappers after a shooting at a T.I. concert at Irving Plaza last month — watched from a distance, more bewildered than tense. (There was one arrest, for disorderly conduct, according to the department.)
For Mr. West, the day’s events were set in motion 14 hours earlier, when the third day of the Governors Ball music festival on Randalls Island, where he was to be the headliner, was canceled because of severe weather. Suddenly, Hot 97’s Summer Jam 2016, just outside Manhattan at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., where a set was already scheduled for his G.O.O.D. Music label, took on additional importance. The raison d’être of Summer Jam is surprise marquee appearances — surely Mr. West would show.
Weather had also decimated Summer Jam, the annual confab thrown by the leading New York hip-hop station, Hot 97 (WQHT 97.1 FM). The afternoon festival stage, with a promising lineup including Chance the Rapper and Dave East, was canceled outright; the main show started hours after it ordinarily would have, with some of the announced sets — Young Thug, Tinashe, Kid Ink — scuttled, seemingly to speed things along.
But that concert also ended abruptly (reportedly for curfew reasons) during DJ Khaled’s guest-filled set; Future, the headliner, never made it to the stage. (In addition to beginning late, the show was also delayed after a chair-swinging fight in the crowd that prompted a swift police response.)
What remained, though, was vintage Summer Jam, and one that focused more intently on New York hip-hop than in recent years. There was a mini-reunion of Terror Squad, the crumbled late 1990s-early 2000s crew, recently reignited by “All the Way Up,” a swaggering hit by Fat Joe and Remy Ma, who was released from prison in August 2014 after a six-year stint. ASAP Rocky and ASAP Ferg performed a string of avant-rap thumpers. And the show began with an enthused set by Maino and Uncle Murda, Brooklyn roughnecks with nary a mainstream breakthrough between them, but plenty of street hits.
New York was present, too, in a way, during the G.O.O.D. Music set early in the show, thanks to the label’s newest signee, Desiigner, the Brooklyn rapper who recently topped the Billboard Hot 100 with his debut single, “Panda.” (Never mind that it directly channels Atlanta style.)
He performed last in the crew, dancing wildly and making ludicrous facial expressions while his teammates — Pusha T, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, Travis Scott and yes, Mr. West — powered through an energetic set emphasizing their tough side. For most of it, Mr. West played grinning paterfamilias, anchoring posse cuts like “Champions,” “I Don’t Like (remix),” “Mercy” and “Clique,” that last one largely a cappella.
Music is but one of Mr. West’s concerns these days. Earlier on Sunday, he had escorted his 2-year-old daughter, North, to see “The Lion King” on Broadway. On Monday, he released the first boots from the second season of his clothing collection. He turns 39 on Wednesday — a casual birthday party took place backstage at Summer Jam, with a cake reading “Pablo,” for Mr. West’s recent album, “The Life of Pablo.”
Often, Mr. West speaks about embracing the improbable. He is a catalyst for creativity and is stubborn in his belief that he can, with the right words, align the world just so, along an axis of his choosing.
But thousands of young people clogging East Village Manhattan streets proved to be untameable, even by Mr. West. Not that he didn’t try: Kim Kardashian, his wife, posted on Snapchat a video of Mr. West on the phone, asking someone to call the mayor and have some streets closed so screens could be set up to simulcast the last-minute concert. He wanted the assembled fans to be able to “have a party outside.”
Even after Mr. West’s drive-by appearance came and went, the faithful stood firm, waiting to be allowed into Webster Hall for the show. But around 2:45 a.m., dozens of officers from the Police Department’s Strategic Response Group began clearing the streets. Fans jumped down from their perches — those mail trucks, a Dumpster, scaffolding, atop parked cars and S.U.V.s now with dented roofs — and began to disperse.
Some, though, still held out for any flicker of hope. When Virgil Abloh and Heron Preston, members of Mr. West’s creative team, walked out of Webster Hall just before 3 a.m., they were immediately noticed. Dozens of people chased them down the block, to Third Avenue, stopping them in the middle of the street for pictures and videos. Minutes later, the two ducked into an S.U.V., which sped away. A few dedicated fans sprinted behind it, off to wherever this night in the city might take them.