2021 has been full of unexpected surprises and the reunion between Kanye West (or Ye, now) and Drake coordinated by Rap-A-Lot Records CEO J Prince will live in the hip-hop textbooks forever. On December 9, thousands of fans gathered at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Free Larry Hoover Benefit concert to witness two of rap’s biggest stars perform in the name of criminal justice reform.
Alice Marie Johnson, the prison advocate who was freed by former President Donald Trump with the help of Ye and Kim Kardashian, was also there and she shared an enlightening speech amid fog and low-lighting about what this moment meant to her, why it was important to bring awareness to Larry Hoover, co-founder of the Chicago gang Gangster Disciples, and why he should be freed.
Aside from what his son, Larry Hoover Jr., said on Donda (not being around growing up, not being able to see his grandchildren), Johnson noted that Hoover was sentenced to serve over 100 years in prison. They’re calling it unjust because he’s mostly been in isolation his entire sentence. Though rumors swirled around on this dark, cold, night, that proceeds from the show would not go to charity, representatives confirmed that ticket sales from the evening (including a portion of the merch) were set to go to not-for-profit entities Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change, Hustle 2.0, and Uptown People’s Law Center.
The show was put together in just 18 days and according to Ye’s production lead for the event and founder of PHNTM, Gabe Fraboni, the large slab of concrete build centered in the middle of the stadium that everyone was buzzing about days before the show was made from something called shotcrete, with dirt at the bottom and a layer of concrete on top.
After Johnson spoke, the night grew longer and colder as the stadium filled up — even past start time. There was a lot of traffic on the way to the Coliseum — so even though viewers at home (especially the east coast) watching on Amazon Prime were deprived of their sleep, I know it made a lot of attendees happy to find the show hadn’t started when they arrived and there was time to stand around in line for a drink.
First to make an appearance on the night was the Sunday Service choir, donned in all black, descending upon the Coliseum stairs while anointing the show with their spirit and robust harmonies. Fog and the winter chill swirled the concrete mesa below the stairs when two illuminated figures arose from the gloom. The entire stadium stood up and cheered. There was so much to celebrate at that moment.
As Drake took to the sidelines, Ye kicked things off with his Donda cut “Praise God” then went into a fury of his hits such as “Jesus Walks,” “All Falls Down,” and “Gold Digger.” The last time I saw Kanye live was in Dallas during his Touch The Sky Tour, so seeing him perform that exact track brought back warm memories and was a gentle reminder of why I became a fan in the first place. And Ye kept the classics coming. He kept the energy high with his peculiar dance moves that whirled in between a billowing fog and colorful lights. Those two elements were brewed together to create what Fraboni described as an “atmospheric” vibe.
By the way, there were no projectors — just Ye appearing mythical while dancing under the moonlight. With “Find Your Love” for instance, I thought Drake sounded a little strange. Nope. It was Mr. West doing his own rendition, only he was eclipsed by an abundance of fog. And it would make sense that Ye would cover Drake. Earlier that day, there was a video circulating of Drizzy practicing “24.”
When it was The Boy’s turn to perform on the mystic mesa, “24” is the first song he did and it sounded glorious. Aubrey didn’t take us back as Ye did by performing his classics. Instead, Drake opted to perform his more recent hits such as “Way 2 Sexy” and “God’s Plan.” Throughout Drake’s set, Ye’s influence was evident. From the way he hyped the crowd to his quirky way of moving across the stage, anyone watching could tell that Drake is a student of Kanye. You’ll be lucky to find Drake’s full performance of the show, however. Apparently, the new edit on Amazon only features the pair performing “Forever” as the finale. Drake’s entire 12-song set is gone.
Nevertheless, December 9 is a day that will go down in history when two of the music industry’s most illustrious acts, Ye and Drake, set aside their years-long beef to bring awareness to what’s going on with Larry Hoover in hopes of having him freed under Trump’s First Step Act. It’s too early to tell if the concert will actually help with that cause, but at least a few criminal justice reform organizations are getting some shine.