"Soul Survivor" played for the second time in an hour.
My Game Boy Advance ran out of battery so I counted the raindrops, tracing their path with my finger as they trickled down the window collecting more drops along the way. That was all that was left to do. Watch the rain.
The bumper to bumper traffic was too much to bear for an overly excited, newly 17-year-old budding hip-hop fan who had forgotten to take his Adderall that day.
Finally, finally, I could see the reflection of a flashing sign bounce off the cars ahead. I couldn't make it out, but I could see the reflection glistening. For what seemed like hours we sat at a light waiting to turn in.
There it was.
October 30, 2005: Kanye West Touch The Sky Tour
My dad maneuvered the mini-van through crowds, traffic, and unenthusiastic parking attendants and got us to the front. I flung the sliding door opened and bolted from the car before my friend even undid his seatbelt. There’s no greater feeling for a teenager than that first rush of freedom after your parents drop you off.
“I’ll pick you up here after. Remember to-”
I was gone. I didn't care. How could I be worried about what would happen after when what was happening now still felt like a dream? I had to get inside. I had to be there. Until I was through those doors, in my seat with a hot dog in my stomach, I couldn't be bothered with anything else; if only I could have applied that focus to my SAT course. I rushed to the door forced to wait even more. Forced to stand in line in the cold and rain. Making it worse, I could see the droves of people inside. Like an orphan on Christmas, I started observing the faces of the people in line for souvenirs, rushing to their seats.
Finally, I was in.
There wasn't time for snacks, souvenirs or bathroom breaks, we had to get to our seats.
We got to our seats.
As Fantasia ended her set and the lights came up, I finally started to settle down. I looked at the people next to me, got some nachos, and took a gander at the shirts. I had the $25 for a shirt leftover from my birthday but decided I should save it instead. To this day that moment still fills me with shame and regret.
I made it back to my seat in time to see the arena now filled to capacity and buzzing with excitement. Just when I thought the show would never start, just when I had to pee again, the lights went down. The crowd roared, but it was quickly stifled by a triumphant, orchestral...
“Duh duh duh dun. Diamonds are foreverrrrr”
The next hour and change is a blur. I remember vivid moments like the dude next to me being shocked when I knew every line to Freeway’s verse on “Two Words” or the way the crowd erupted when Kanye changed a line in "All Falls Down" to “and George Bush gets paid off of all of that.” I remember not being able to really see Kanye, but still feeling like he was rapping for just me. Kanye was larger than the whole venue; it wasn’t his ego, it was his heart that filled up the room. He was amazing.
I remember recording a few clips on my flip phonemic and listening to them over and over and over. They sounded more like the black box recording of a plane crashing into the mountains, but if you listened carefully you could hear some semblance of a beat or a great line (I had practice finding the good bits thanks to scrambled cable porn). They were lost in a sea of data—victims to data plans and upgrades—but to this day I still think about those recordings; what I wouldn't give to hear them one more time. In terms of the set, I don’t remember much. I remember an orchestra and maybe a guest spot from, I want to say, Cam’ron, but I can’t recall much about the show itself. I don’t think I had the knowledge and awareness to analyze the setlist and point out flaws like I can now, but while the memories are faded and blurry, what remains so clear is the feeling I got. The blissful exhaustion, the pure happiness, the excitement. I still feel that to this day.
I left the stadium quickly, trying to beat the crowds and spot the family vehicle; it was a school night after all. Had I known what I know now, I would have taken a second to stop and smell the roses, to savor the last bit of adrenaline coursing through my veins. I didn't know it then, but that feeling would mean so much to me a decade later. Like a fiend desperate for another hit, it's that feeling I chase, looking for it anywhere I can. It’s that feeling I think about when I’m feeling lazy and don’t want to attend a show or do an interview. It’s taken many different forms, “Devil In A New Dress,” interviewing 9th Wonder, seeing a great live show, but it’s that rush that continues to motivate me to sojourn down an unknown path of music. Leaving the Patriot Center, sweaty and tired yet teeming with exuberance, that was the first moment I really got that rush.
I wish I could go back to that moment now and soak up just a little bit more of that energy for a rainy day, but chasing memories is a race I’ll never win. Because now I don’t like shit, I don’t go outside and going to shows doesn't have the same magic. I hate waiting for the Metro. I hate crowds. I hate when the wristband catches some of my arm hair, I hate watching the show through a sea of cell phones held up in the air. But no matter how bad it gets I keep coming back, keep chasing that high, and really it's all because of that day.
I touched the sky that day. I haven't really come back down since.