With rumors flying that Jay-Z’s 4:44 tour was lacking in tickets sales, there seemed to be an air of pressure around the now 50 year old, top tiered emcee to deliver a stellar performance at his show at Talking Stick Arena in Phoenix. Reports of a cancelled show in Fresno and drops in ticket prices suggested that people may be over the mega mogul. In a day and age where the high energy music of younger artists such as Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole dominate the market, Jay-Z is attempting the spread the mature gospel of his newest, understated release, 4:44 to the masses. While his newer music may be a little harder for the masses to digest, Jay-Z still managed to use his extensive range of hits to prove his place in the legacy of hip hop with a tight, mostly crowd pleasing set.
Vic Mensa, the newest member of the Roc Nation family, acted as the opener for the evening. People were still filing in as Mensa performed for a half full stadium. The somber tone and mood of the tracks from his new album, The Autobiography, may not have been the ideal opening situation. While songs like “Rolling Stoner” and “U Mad” have a stadium status type of feel, most of the audience members were still trying to find their seats as Mensa danced across the stage accompanied by a two member band. Opening for Jay-z is a pretty big job as the level of expectation to be excellent is expected. While Mensa does a decent job of holding down the stage, it seemed that the crowd wasn’t as responsive as they could be.
Promptly starting at 9:45, the lights dimmed and the now suddenly almost sold out venue was treated to four giant panels displaying images of Jay-z’s face being engulfed in flames. As “Kill Jay-Z” began to ring through the speakers, Jay-z appeared in the center of the stage. The crowd seemed fairly responsive to the no frills approach of Jiggaman’s approach. A bevy “VHS- style” camera footage chronicled Jay-Z’s performance as he proceeded to knock out major hits such as “No Church In The Wild”, “You Know I Got It” and “PSA.” With 14 albums under his belt, it is pretty clear that Jay-Z has a wide variety of crowd pleasers at his disposal.
Jay-Z admitted that he was embarrassed before he dove into the title track of his new album, 4:44. Acting as a confession and apology to his wife, Beyonce, the soulful track is one of the most heartfelt and exposed moments of Jay-Z’s career. The crowd could only look on in awe as Jay-Z stood center stage and poured his heart out. This different side of Jay-Z is a far departure from his usual braggadocio persona and while this energy was expected at some point in the show, the crowd seemed to simply tolerate the music until the next surefire radio hit was up. Most of his newer material didn’t go over as well with the crowd as his older stuff. Perhaps this is a result of him alienating his fan base with his corporate dealings on his last two projects or maybe the music just isn’t as good as his previous hits. This is up for debate and the lull in energy wasn’t necessarily a bad thing but rather a testament to Jay-Z’s growth. Gone are the days when Hova would hit the stage with a 20+ entourage in an attempt to make things as hype as possible. Jay-Z has the ability to command your attention with just his voice and energy whether you like the music or not.
We are seeing a new frontier in Hip Hop. As rap legends like Jay-Z begin to age, we are beginning to compare them to the likes of The Rolling Stones or Fleetwood Mac. We don’t necessarily care about their new album but would rather here the tried and true hits that we grew up with. While it is compelling to hear and see artist take new directions in their thought process and creative output, it usually does not overpower the sheer energy and nostalgia of the music you grew up with. As Jay-Z moves forward, he will have to continue to walk the line between pleasing the audience with hits from the past and being able to express his true, current artistic state. As long as Jay-Z maintains that balance, his fans will continue to support his efforts.
“Kill Jay Z”
“No Church in the Wild”
“Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)”
“Run This Town”
“Beach Is Better”
“Jigga My N——”
“Dirt Off Your Shoulder”
“On to the Next One”
“I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)”
“The Story of O.J.”
“N——s in Paris”
“Where I’m From”
“Empire State of Mind”
“Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”
“Numb / Encore”