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“I’ve been on many stages all around the world. I performed at the Grammys. I performed at Glastonbury. I tore Coachella to pieces. Nothing feels like this.”
So declared Jay-Z to 18,000 fans after opening with his now 15-years-old song “Where I’m From,” during his pointedly sentimental show to inaugurate Barclays Center. The show represented a pivotal moment for Hova: He not only grew up in the Marcy Housing Projects near the stadium’s location, but also owns a minority stake in NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, for whom the reported $1 billion structure was built.
That makes Shawn Carter the unofficial faceplate for the much-embattled stadium, which has been criticized for uprooting low-income families, jolting neighborhood tranquility, and being a rust-color eyesore. (A modest number of protesters offered a pre-show outside the venue, brandishing snarky signs such as “99 Percent Problems, and this Arena is 1 Percent,” beside even less Occupy protesters reminding us of Rocawear’s “Occupy All Streets” snafu a year back.)
But at this point, Jay-Z is a seasoned businessman and stalwartly kept his set — the first of eight shows that sold out in one day — Brooklyn-centric, unfurling sing-alongs such as “Brooklyn Go Hard,” “Run This Town,” and “Empire State of Mind” at an indefatigable pace. His stage was a minimalist black slope, the only adornments a collection of stylized video projections, including images of classic Brooklyn rappers and borough streetscapes. It also lent dignity to a heartfelt a tribute to Notorious B.I.G., during which Jay-Z rattled off rhymes from the late rapper’s “Kick in the Door” and “Juicy.” “We have to understand our history,” he later remarked from the stage.
Wearing a No. 4 Nets jersey fashioned with his surname on the back, Hova held court alone, his unwavering charisma filling the expanse of that stage. (A live band, perched atop the sloping wall, added vibrancy to their MC’s flawless, punctuated delivery.) As promised, this was a solo game. No A-list collaborators jumped on stage to add glitz to the proceedings. Meanwhile, the celebrity attendance amounted to a curious quilt of pop culture notables such as Pharrell Williams, Star Jones, Al Roker, Magic Johnson, and a low-key Beyoncé.
The night’s rare misstep came during a moment of bravado when Jay-Z gave a shout-out to Barclays’ developer Bruce Ratner, a much-maligned figure in the local communities. The name-check was greeted with a chorus of half claps and quiet boos. But this overachieving rapper-businessman seems impervious to defeat, and he bounced back thunderously.
The swell of “Dirt off Your Shoulder” into “I Just Want to Love U (Give It to Me)” into “Bing Pimpin” could’ve easy left his fans wanting more. Instead, the rapper actually gave them more. In a show of earnestness, he launched into Reasonable Doubt-era fare such as “Dead Presidents” and “Can I Live?” And spectacle slowly transformed into atmosphere.
The night’s shrewdly cast guest star, Brooklyn’s own Big Daddy Kane, brought some good times back to the borough. His mini-set, which included his 1988 hit “Ain’t No Half Steppin’” turned into clap-happy dance party when he kicked into a routine, flanked by Scoob Lover and Scrap Lover, his old backup dancers.
Their nostalgic appearance, by comparison, only underscored Jay-Z’s slick salesmanship. “I ain’t no different from anybody here tonight,” he declared at one point in the night. The sentiment seemed quaint before, but after two hours of holding court in his new castle…who is he kidding? “This is the house that Hova built,” he bellowed. “Welcome to my house!”
Where I’m From
Brooklyn Go Hard
Kick in the Door (Biggie tribute)
Juicy (Biggie tribute)
U Don’t Know
Run This Town
Empire State of Mind
On to the Next One
Dirt Off Your Shoulder
I Just Wanna Love U
Can I Live?
Jigga My N—-
Jigga What, Jigga Who
Hard Knock Life
Heart of the City
What More Can I Say?
Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up)
Ain’t No Half Steppin’ (Big Daddy Kane)
Set It Off (Big Daddy Kane)
Warm It Up Kane (Big Daddy Kane)
Best of Me, Pt. 2
Money Ain’t a Thing
Money, Cash, Hoes
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