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Too much happened last night. In what felt like a super collision of pop culture, Kanye West concluded a day that involved the premiere of his line with adidas (and the first track from his forthcoming album) with a live performance that shut down Manhattan’s Flatiron district; then David Carr, the beloved New York Times columnist, passed away in the newsroom; and then Drake released, what, a mixtape? An album? It arrived on iTunes shortly before midnight and cost $12.99. (Oh, and Diddy was mid-performance when that happened—shots fired?)
Last night was the rap world in microcosm. Kanye West, the artistic titan, brought Anna Wintour, Jay Z, Beyonce, and Rihanna (among others), to sit with his family while he presented his line with adidas, including new sneakers that would’ve been concocted with Nike had he not ended his relationship with that sportswear giant. At the concert later that night, billed the First Annual Roc City Classic presented by Roc Nation, he took shots at Nike. “We ain’t even gonna mention that other company, right? We ain’t wearing that other company, right?” he asked the crowd near the end of the hour-long set. The audience cheered; Twitter balked.
It was a coming out party for Roc Nation, a stunt, a flex. Skylar Diggins and Kevin Durant took a selfie before the music started, their backs to the crowd, just for the hell of it. From her elevated position on stage, Angie Martinez chatted with the eager fans in front of the Flatiron building, and took a moment to thank the mayor and the NYPD. Asking around, she learned that some in attendance had traveled from Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., just to see Kanye. It’s the first time for the event, and there’s no doubt that Jay Z’s entertainment conglomerate, which now includes sports stars in addition to icons of the music world, will be back for a second year. Roc Nation making a pronouncement like “first annual” carries weight.
When the lights finally dimmed and the bass blared, the show’s setlist felt like an abbreviated version of the Yeezus tour, just with more guests. Travis $cott warmed up the very, very cold crowd with “Upper Echelon,” “Mamacita,” and “Skyfall,” and then Kanye took the stage to “Black Skinhead.” Pusha T joined him for “I Don’t Like.” “Theraflu” and its refrain of “Don’t talk about style ’cause I’ll embarrass you” felt particularly electric given Kanye’s New York Fashion Week debut. Friends of G.O.O.D. Music Big Sean and 2 Chainz appeared for a complete version of “Mercy,” the most momentous musical event of the evening.
The biggest surprise came in the form of one-eyed New Jersey upstart Fetty Wap, who sounded like a zillion bucks rapping “Trap Queen.” With Valentine’s Day approaching, it’s the perfect time to fall in love—with a new flame, with your stove, with Paterson, N.J.
When Kanye and Big Sean began “Blessings,” everyone wondered: Where was Drake? Would he show up for his chorus? With only three songs to go before the after-party, what none of us knew was that Drake was very close by. (Perhaps he heard that his voice was a tad muted by the speaker system during the chorus of “Blessings.”)
After rounding out his set with “New Slaves,” “Blood on the Leaves,” the quick Nike diss, and “Only One,” Kanye departed and the crowd turned away from the stage to head toward Jay Z’s 40/40 club a few blocks away for the official post-show turn-up function. The fenced-off line to the entrance and the throngs of people moving to the subway entrances erupted when a group of winter-ready men moved down Broadway. NYPD officers appeared out of nowhere as screams and squeals rang out for what everyone in an instant realized was Drake and his crew. Drake, the long-time-ago underdog who sometimes pretends like he hasn’t become the homecoming king, smiled, talked to some fans, and just generally embodied calm in a situation that recalled the arrivals of boy bands.
Of course, in a couple hours, he would release If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, which included strong words for Kendrick Lamar, Tyga, Diddy, and Kanye West. And so he ensured that he had the last word on a very busy day.
Ross Scarano is a Deputy Editor at Complex. Follow him at @RossScarano.