May 20, 2012 10:54 pm

Jay-Z/Kanye West, The O2, London

Stock market analysts beware. When Jay-Z and Kanye West released their opulent collaboration Watch the Throne last August, the US lost its triple A rating and Wall Street suffered the worst day of trading since the financial crisis.

On Friday, the rap duo swaggered into London to start the European leg of their joint tour. The markets duly plunged amid fears of the eurozone breaking up.

Meanwhile in Watch the Throne’s bubble economy, the talk is of supercars, luxury hotels, high-fashion boutiques and consumption so conspicuous it can be seen from the Moon. The album is the ultimate expression of rap’s love of ostentation. It has inspired a stage show to match.

It opened with Jay-Z and West on their own stages, facing each other at either end of the arena. The first song, “H.A.M”, was a rebooted version of Watch the Throne’s flop lead single. Subtext: failure will not be tolerated.

Then the twin stages rose, lifting the twosome towards the heavens. “Who Gon Stop Me” placed the braggadocio in the context of black American suffering, with West announcing: “This is something like the Holocaust/Millions of our people lost.”

The action shifted to the main stage with “Otis”, both men extolling: “luxury rap/the Hermes of verses” over a nifty Otis Redding sample. “Welcome to the Jungle” was led by Jay-Z rapping about his previous life as a Brooklyn drug dealer to a claustrophobic electro beat. Films of leopards hunting gazelles and tigers charging were projected on screens. The stage values were high-tech – hydraulic platforms, lasers, pyrotechnics – but the message was primitive Darwinism: succeed or die.

The action stuttered as the duo took turns playing solo hits. It snapped back into focus when they returned to Watch the Throne. “No Church in the Wild” was accompanied by images of hurricane Katrina, white and black churches and Ku Klux Klansmen. Then three renditions of “Niggas in Paris”, ending amid lights and storm clouds. I came away with the peculiar sensation of having witnessed the superstar equivalent of the house band on the Titanic.

3 stars

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