House of Blues, West Hollywood
Tuesday, Nov. 6

Jay-Z's "retirement" is history, dust in the wind. How could a rap tour de force suddenly cap his enormous 12-year output and settle for the mundane trappings of corporate music?

The running bet in critical circles was how long would Jay-Z resist the lure of the word, the addictive elixir of public adoration and respect and the sniping of youngbloods hoping to sniff an inch of his long line of mega-successes?

Well, the wait lasted a mere three years, culminating in the weak "Kingdom Come" album last year. The effort correlated with a basketball player attempting a comeback after an extended retirement: The world still spun, and the fast-paced life continued relentlessly. "Kingdom Come" came off as winded as a returning baller after his first fast break down the court.

Jay-Z returned to public performance Tuesday in support of his promising album "American Gangster," in stores the day he kicked off a short tour at the House of Blues in West Hollywood. A full-blown band -- resplendent in white shirts, vests and razor-thin black ties -- complemented the rapper with horns (trombone, saxophone and trumpet), percussion, guitar, bass, background vocalists, the requisite DJ and a hellacious drummer who anchored the proceedings with authority.

Shouts of "Hova," Jay-Z's unofficial nickname, cascaded from the crowd as he strode onstage sporting baggy cargo pants and a black T-shirt with "Give to Receive" inscribed in glittering silver. Going with his strengths, the rapper ripped into his catalog with a vengeance and, more importantly, without a trace of rust. "Blackout," "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" "I Know What Girls Like," "99 Problems" and "Jigga What, Jigga Who?" inspired massive rap-alongs. With the audience in such close proximity, they often drowned out Jay-Z's effort. He didn't mind, as he periodically dropped his microphone to his side, content to let the crowd be the star.

Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel and Freeway joined Jay-Z for a rapid-fire run-through of "Excuse Me Miss"/"La, La, La," "Roc the Mic," "Change the Game," "What We Do" and "Ignorant Shit," adding their particular flavor to a stew that already was on boil-over.

After a short break, Jay-Z returned for a quick run-through of more from his encyclopedic catalog. P. Diddy and Jermaine Dupri then sauntered onstage for Jay-Z's new single, "Roc Boys." But lost in the euphoria was the ironic fact that the troika represents more than $2 billion among their various enterprises. Yes, hip-hop has been very, very good to Jay-Z and friends.