Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way first before you ask: yes, I went to a Jay-Z concert. Just because I’m white, I jam out to Billy Joel and I have worse dance moves than Napoleon Dynamite does not prevent me from being a fan of Jay-Z, one of the greatest hip-hop artists of all-time. Glad we established that.
Jay-Z owns, percentage-wise, about as much of the Brooklyn Nets as you or I do – 1/15 of one percent. But in many ways, the team and its brand-spanking-new home, the Barclays Center, are his. Jay-Z has appeared on a billboard with Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov (titled “the blueprint for greatness”), helped design the team’s sleek black-and-white color scheme and constantly promoted the brand with his own clothing selection. It’s hard to think of a celebrity part-owner who’s been more visible in team operations than Jay-Z – but the message was clear on Thursday night, during the sixth of eight consecutive shows for the rapper. The Nets are Jay-Z. The Barclays Center is Jay-Z. Brooklyn is Jay-Z.
Last night’s Jay-Z show at the Barclays Center started with a giant slideshow of images from the history of Brooklyn, set to tunes such as the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”. Then, with the arena going crazy, two spotlights shone down on a solitary silhouette – Mr. H.O.V.A. himself. A few verses of “Where I’m From” and a run through “Empire State of Mind” after that, and we were off.
Jay blazed through a 20+ song set list, complete with an encore, in about 90 minutes. It was a ferocious run through the hits, backed by a seven-piece live band complete with two drummers. Just about anything that you’d want to hear Jay-Z play, he played. “99 Problems” appeared early in the set, with Jay letting the crowd take the police officer’s lines in the second verse. “Heart Of The City (Ain’t No Love)”, perhaps my favorite Jay-Z tune, proved to be a huge crowd-pleaser near the end of the main set. And Jay’s restart of “Run This Town” after a few bars of Rihanna’s introduction practically set the crowd on fire.
Last night’s show was the first hip-hop concert I’ve been to, so I can’t say for sure whether live bands are the norm at these things. But “no” would be my best guess. Whether or not that’s the typical case, Jay-Z’s band added to the fanfare. The celebratory piano run to end “Encore” was a nice touch at the end of the main set, and a few blistering guitar solos were sprinkled throughout. The dual drummers also kept the energy up. Jay-Z’s always appreciated rock music – heck, the final song before his entrance was the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”, which came after a 90-minute run of hip-hop by a Hot 97 DJ. I certainly enjoyed the backing band as opposed to, say, faceless samples.
Jay-Z kept the energy high throughout, with few gaps in between songs and a constant stream of lights and background images. You can’t reasonably attack the show for ever lacking in energy, and Mr. Carter himself was in fine form. He didn’t finish most of the songs, cutting the majority of tunes before their final verse, but with a constant string from hit to hit, you didn’t have much time to worry about it.
The show wasn’t perfect, though. It started with the aforementioned set from a Hot 97 DJ, who ran through from song to song while trying to pump up the crowd. It occasionally worked – but I could have done without the constant yelling to “stand up for Jay-Z” for the majority of the – can you call it a set? I also couldn’t see this DJ, and the stage was still dark, so I had a problem getting excited for a person who may not have even been in the arena. Also, I’m no fan whatsoever of Hot 97. I have 12 FM presets in my car – not only is Hot 97 not part of the 12, but the 12th preset is still 87.9, which isn’t an actual radio station. Yes, I’m taking static noise over DJs that won’t shut up over blaring air horns and rap any day of the week.
We also suffered from the location of our seats, high up in Section 220. The people around our group of four were about as excited as Barack Obama during Wednesday night’s debate. (Easy, I know.) Try as we might with ridiculous dances and screaming, there was nothing that could be done to infuse some energy into the cheap seats.
All in all, the show wasn’t totally dampened by the comatose crowd around us or DJ Yell-A-Lot. Jay led an energetic and lively affair in a beautiful, sleek brand-new building. Brooklyn’s in the palm of Mr. Carter’s hand right now, and he knows just what to do with it.