NEW YORK, NY—There was quite the buzz of anticipation that was filling Carnegie Hall for the last of a two-night charity event that would go down as being quite historic. Guests were mingling on the floor, ushers were smiling as they sat patrons around the theater and minutes before the lights dimmed, the balcony stood up and chanted, “Hova!” This obviously was not a normal evening at Carnegie Hall, but rather one that made Jay-Z the first rapper to play a solo show here.
I had come across the good fortune of last minute tickets and had a bird’s eye view of the stage and a prime seat alongside fans who were the ones that really made the evening feel like a true concert experience and not a night at the opera. This was a concert with more reason than to provide entertainment value. Proceeds would benefit both the United Way of New York City and The Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation.
This sense of community, that everyone in attendance had aided these causes, gave off this feeling that we were all friends from those on the floor all the way up to the balcony. Notable guests were in attendance with Russell Simmons seated right below where I was and on the floor were players from the New York Giants and comedian Chris Rock.
After the celebrity gawking novelty wore off, the lights dimmed and Jay-Z could not take the stage soon enough. The full orchestra took their seats, led by conductor Jeri Lynn Johnson, alongside guitar players, backup vocalists, keyboardists, turntables and two drum kits, with one being manned by Questlove. These talented musicians were the reason in bringing the music of Jay-Z’s songs to a grandeur that was larger than life.
Jay-Z took the stage, starting off with “PSA” with the American flag projected above the stage and the sound just filled the venue beautifully. He continued on with a mix of all his hit singles, which pleased everyone in attendance. Probably the best point of the night came when two special guests took the stage alongside him. Alicia Keys came out for none other than “Empire State Of Mind” and was followed by rapper Nas. Keys would also take up Lauryn Hill’s vocals in Nas’ “If I Ruled The World” and both Jay-Z and Nas showed nothing but love and respect towards each other.
After the spinning my head endured from the mesmerizing, but dizzying images projected during the mini tribute to New York City, more radio hits came at us. “Run This Town” and “Roc Boys (And The Winner Is…)” played before a medley of songs that I grew up on followed. From “Hard Knock Life” to “Girls, Girls, Girls,” there was no time to take a breather. He did slow things down with “Glory,” his most recent single written for his daughter, Blue Ivy.
Even Jay-Z could not escape the expected encore and made sure to recognize important people in attendance and those who were not. His mother had one of the best seats in the house until her son decided to switch things around. For the last few minutes, he took to the back of the house, in the third level balcony and had the entire venue rapping. After a few of his own songs, he wanted to remember the Notorious B.I.G. and ended with everyone rapping the first few lines of “Juicy” and “Mo Money Mo Problems.”