E. RUTHERFORD, NJ—I fall in love with euphony that defies genres, and a charming Grammy Award-winning rapper who was born Shawn Corey Carter on Dec. 4, 1969, holds a very special place in my heart. Finally, on March 6, I was able to watch him in his element at New Jersey’s IZOD Center, while I was in my own. He performed well after 11 p.m., to which he said, “I feel like I’m being set up every night. Let’s go into overtime, fuck it!”
Carter’s superhero alter-ego, Jay-Z, is easily the classiest and most universal contemporary urban poet of my generation, who jump started his career in 1996 with Reasonable Doubt and has been watching it snowball ever since. Carter is a gentle, chic, soft-spoken and an articulate behind-the-scenes businessman and creator of ideas, brands, and pathways to success through layers of ambition. Jay-Z is the force to be reckoned with, executing those ideas with much controlled abandon, distinction and outspoken vivacity. In common they both have industrious qualities, using the life given to them to accomplish great things.
After two surrounding digital clocks hit 00:00, Rhianna Rihanna’s voice encompassed us all through the speakers, the lights were no longer dimmed, and Jay-Z was rising up from the heart of the stage, immediately swaggering into “Run This Town.” The night’s momentum had been set, and he was ready to do just as the song title insinuates.
Behind the Brooklyn-born rapper, sky-high screens flashed images of New York City, a live camera feed, and his Blueprint 3 album cover. Jay-Z’s catalogue of songs has enough melody and differentiated beats to require what was laid out in front of those screens: A backing band containing a horn section, bass player, guitar player, drums and percussion, as well as the expected DJs and electronic fillers, to bring to life hits from “99 Problems” to “D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune).”
Jay-Z has garnered the respect of people across the board, including the infamous Bill Maher who presented the multi-platinum selling rapper with a book filled with his own rhymes during televised one-on-one time. That moment further proved that—as if there was any shadow of a doubt—Hov’s words are never superfluous. They constantly evolve as to the given time in his life, are always intelligent, witty, and succinct, and resonate with people worldwide, many of whom were packed wall to wall, screaming and singing inside of the arena that is just across the river from where he calls home.
Jay-Z ended the first portion of his set with “Empire State Of Mind,” a song that has become a generational anthem for those born in Manhattan, its surrounding boroughs, or inner-ring suburbs of northern New Jersey.
Although Young Jeezy is a scheduled part of each show on Jay-Z’s tour, his performance felt like the vamping of an opening act that often gets pelted with any object or word in reach. From his classless swearing to empty rhymes, he fervently revealed just how many leagues above the rest Jay-Z is, and that he has no business sharing a stage with Jay. The energy of the crowd also diminished, and although they were enjoying themselves, it was a night and day difference.
Jay-Z rejoined Jeezy onstage for “My President,” where he uttered very inspiring words: “Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther could walk; Martin Luther walked so Barack Obama could run; Barack Obama ran so all our children could fly; So imma spread my wings, you could meet me in the sky.” Soon after, the video of President Obama brushing his shoulder off during a news conference as a sly tribute to Jay-Z segued into “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.”
The “Playback” portion of the night, which included earlier rhymes “Can I Get A,” “Big Pimpin,’” and “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” was a throwback for me to the days of Hackensack Middle School dances that I attended from 1998 to 2001. I was given license to retreat and relive the energy and youth of that time in my life. It was a gigantic sing-a-long and very intimate moment between Jay-Z and his fans, especially for those who’ve stuck with him since the beginning. That, of course, did not get past Hov, causing him to wittily and wittingly say—as the crowd repeatedly yelled “HOVA!”—“Hey, if you just came along [later] at the Blueprint 3 or Black Album, we love ya’ll, we had a good time, you can exit right now, there’s no traffic, you can get home, we’ll see ya’ll at the next show. Or you could stay and learn something.”
The night was topped off with nods to Tupac and Biggie, for whom Jay-Z has immense respect and obviously learned something from.