Jay-Z proves to be the kind, benevolent, fan-loving king of rap.

30 Dec


I was still at work, and Zack and I had been chatting that Friday, trying to make the day go faster so I could head home and cuddle with him on the couch, in pajamas, while we drank spiked hot cocoa and watched Christmas movies. He’d signed off to do some shopping*. Then, out of the blue, I get this g-chat:

*This shopping entailed biking to Big Top with a backpack to fill with stocking candy for Caitlin.

Zack:  are you here?
Caitlin: yesh
Zack: $20
Caitlin: are we doing this???
Zack: OK i’m buying them
8 pm show
Caitlin: what’s the venue?
Zack: AT&T center
Caitlin: damn
$20?!?!? when do we need to get on the road by?
Zack: 6 would be fine
Caitlin: ok cool, I’ll make sure I leave right at 5 or earlier if I can
this is insane
Now, in my exhausted, still-at-work brain, I interpreted this interaction to mean that Jay-Z was doing some kind of surprise, secret pop-up show that nobody had known about*. Then, as I researched further, I realized this was just a tour date on his Magna Carta World Tour, and Zack had never said anything about it being secret or special. This made me lose my steam on the whole thing for a moment, as I wistfully pictured myself with my hot cocoa and pajamas. But I buckled up and managed to stay awake on the hour-and-a-half drive to San Antonio, and suddenly found myself sitting in the AT&T Center, with a whole lotta other folks, about to watch Jay-Z bring the house down.
*I love that she thought that. Honestly, the show just slipped under my radar. I knew Caitlin had dreams of pajamas and “One Magic Christmas” for our Friday night, but as I wrote on Facebook, “Didn’t think I was going to see Jay-Z when I woke up this morning, but if Jay-Z is playing in the closest stadium to you, you better have a damn good reason not to go. We don’t, so we’re going to San Antonio.” I’d only seen Jay once and it was the best hip hop show of my life. I had to share it with Caitlin.


We were worried we’d be late, with an 8 pm start time, but we should have known better*. You know it’s gonna be a good night when the (shoddy, interrupts-the-music-too-much-to-HYPE.YOU.UPPP) DJ puts on “Drunk In Love**,” the just-released duet from Mrs. Carter and her HOV. Everyone went a little wild, but it was decidedly the ladies of the audience who absolutely lost it as Queen Bey’s voice came booming out through the speakers.
*Deep down I knew. Jay doesn’t go on early. He’ll keep you waiting just a bit longer than you like, but always makes it worth it.
**Which came in #1 on Caitlin’s just released “Best Albums of the Year” list. Also, I thought the DJ was decent enough.
 Jay-Z finally came out to wild applause at 9:30*, and you could tell from the start that the crowd was going to show the love, and that Jay-Z really appreciated it. He was insistent that we were the best crowd on the tour thus far. Some artists are so transparent when they tell you you’re the best crowd. (I’m looking at you, Matt & Kim.) Some are so genuine and loving, that you fully believe that your San Antonio crowd topped MSG and Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn and every other bigger stadium around the world, even though it’s hard to believe it’s true. 
*Jay has a top-flight live band behind him, and was touring with world-class producer Timbaland DJing and more or less producing the show from the stage. 
Jay was on my list of “must see before I die” artists*, but I didn’t think I was all that familiar with his catalogue** going into the show. I just knew he was an expert at what he did, so I felt sure I’d be entertained no matter what. When the third song on the setlist** was “On To The Next One,” I realized I was going to know a lot more than I’d expected.
*Caitlin had HOV at #7 on her list, just behind Beyonce and ahead of Stevie Wonder.
**She told me she only knew two songs. I assured her it would be at least six. I probably know 2/3 of his live catalogue.
**My favorite song of Jay’s was the very first one he played, “U Don’t Know.” I’ve been known to quote it when feeling especially confident. Like when I finished my first triathlon. Love, love, love that he knows that even if it’s not his most popular, it’s perfect to open with.
“99 Problems” was my introduction to Jay — my younger brother explained to me that while it was not OK that Jay demeaned women in the song, the whole point of it was to point out that, while the white boy bands were singing about their broken hearts, Jay was pointing out that he had a lot more to deal with as a black man. I loved the honesty of the song from that perspective, and could feel the frustration seething out of the verses. A decade later, the song is still powerful. A song so popular, it inspired a tumblr of cartoons of said problems. It’s just one of endless hits Jay blasts through.
I loved “Public Service Announcement” for its shout-out to Queen Bey being the “hottest chick in the game*.” We could still work on your pet names for the ladies, Jay, but I do appreciate the recognition. Plus, you just have to get behind a song as bombastic as, “Allow me to re-introduce myself.”
*This is from a verse I love so much, I’ll pull the whole quote:
Fresh out the frying pan into the fire
I be the, music biz number 1 supplier
Flier than a piece of paper bearing my name
Got the hottest chick in the game wearing my chain, thats right HOV
When Zack and I were in Paris and we took our first train ride there, we realized the opening of “N***** in Paris” is the ACTUAL SOUND the trains make when they are leaving or pulling into a station. I can’t get over that! So whenever we rode the train, we’d rap our favorite verse: “That shit cray. That shit cray. Fish filet.” I’m pretty sure Jay left out the “fish filet” line in his live, sans-Kanye performance, but it was still in our hearts. We were only treated to one rendition of this song. When ‘Ye and Jay toured together, they turned the performance into a game, continually upping how often they’d play it, going from 3 times per show to 8, 9, 10 and maxing out on playing “Ni**as in Paris” an insane 11 times in one Vancouver show. Now, that shit is cray.
For “Holy Grail,” there wasn’t any live stand-in for Justin Timberlake — Jay just played the track* with J.T. singing on it. He did the same for my favorite of the night, “Empire State of Mind,” but that was OK because I sang Alicia’s part at the top of my lungs. I almost started to cry from thinking about my dear New York City, and it certainly helped to make me sentimental, that right before the song, Jay did his band introductions and audience call-outs. By the latter, I mean Jay stood back and called out people wearing shirts he liked (usually jerseys for NYC teams). There were two kids in the front row, both around the age of 8, and Jay ended up having a long conversation with the little boy. He asked what his favorite song was, and when the boy answered “Holy Grail,” the band replayed a part of it so the boy could rap along with Jay.** HOV ended this segment with the biggest grin on his face, saying, “This was my favorite moment…ever. Thank you for that.”
*Duets with a track are an unfortunate, but inevitable part of a live hip hop show, especially seeing the solo Jay show, sans JT or Kanye.
**Easily the highlight of the show. They didn’t bring the kid on stage, but held the cameras on him the whole time as he rapped along to the “acoustic” version. The kid was smiling so wide, and how could anyone watching not smile right along? We may not have gotten 11 versions of “Ni**as in Paris” but the second “Holy Grail” was so damn charming.
The encore was emotion from start to finish. “Empire State of Mind” was followed by “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” “Hard Knock Life,” and “Young Forever.” It was like one big, long sing-along jam, and Jay promised us before closing out the night, “I want you to know that no matter how many Grammys or No. 1s, nothing compares to this feeling right here. There’s a lot of shit that goes into coming to a concert, so thank you. I’ll never get jaded as long as I can get up on this fucking stage.” And the winner is HOV.

One Response to “Jay-Z proves to be the kind, benevolent, fan-loving king of rap.”

  1. tapeparade January 1, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

    I love the enthusiasm you guys write with! I saw Jay-Z at a festival and I have to agree, he was just electric and so warm and enthusing. Sounds brilliant XXX

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