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Kanye West turns NYC park into a rap club for a night

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Getty Images for Roc Nation

Yeezy season is pretty chilly. The temperature in Madison Square Park had dropped to freezing by the time the Roc City Classic kicked off on an outdoor stage and, just hours after unveiling his first clothing and footwear line with Adidas, Kanye West took the stage following a brief set by his protege Travi$ Scott. The throngs of fans packing the fenced in enclosures didn’t seem to mind too much, though.

After spending the past two years devoting himself to reimagining the rap concert (creating an epic, prog-rocky stage experience for his Yeezus tour and playing around with compelling minimalism at this past weekend’s Grammys), West is set was a return to roots–specifically to the kind of chaotic hip-hop shows that his high-concept endeavors are supposed to be eliminating. 

The 45-minute set could easily have happened at a mid-sized club as a big outdoor stage under a column of spotlights. West forewent a live band for his most trusted musical collaborator Mike Dean DJ’ing, and the occasional tweak to the backing traks that went off beat and the couple of trainwreck transitions throughout the set were familiar to hardcore rap fans used to catching sets by peformers still getting their stage acts together. West brought out plenty of guests, including Pusha T, Big Sean, and 2 Chainz, who all took solo numbers and acted as hype men for each other. “It’s really hip-hop,” West said at one point between songs. “This is very unorganized for a Kanye West situation.”

For all the flubs, though, it was good to see Kanye emphasizing the music over everything else. Despite the rumors, Paul McCartney and ‘Ye’s apparent new bestie Taylor Swift didn’t swoop in for appearances. He barely played any hits either, sticking mostly to tracks like “New Slaves” and “Cold”—fan favorites that have never gotten traction with a general pop audience. West spent the first part of his daily media cycle making a convincing case that he’s a world-class fashion designer, but he ended it by reminding us that even with all the clothing lines and performance art and fake mountains, at heart, he hasn’t stopped being the guy on the little club stage trying to get noticed.