Writer’s Note: Sorry for this review being two weeks late, but I had to move into my 1ST apartment, small life milestone so excuse me for my lateness. To quote the legendary, Pusha T, “My dope don’t spoil.” You’re welcome!
“It’s a lot of motherfuckers in here tonight for a tour that ain’t selling.” – Jay Z
Not going to lie, I almost believed the hype. Months ago, when the tour was announced and tickets went on sale, people were crying over the ticket prices and the narrative of Jay Z being a hypocrite for expecting people to pay expensive tickets when he just told them that throwing money in a strip is inferior to having credit on the socio-economic, “Story of OJ”. Come on people, be smart. Buying concert tickets is what you do with your disposable income, not the money that is to be used for establishing financial stability. For the record, my Kendrick Lamar tickets were actually more expensive than these at the same venue, in the same 3rd level, but people need a reason to hate someone at any moment. Reportedly, the low prices are a way to keep scalpers and second-hand sites from making a profit; this innovative move is the reason why this is arguably his most financially successful tour yet. The latest punchline in the career of Mr. Carter has been the availability of cheap tickets on second-hand sites like my go to, StubHub. I don’t know why tickets to a concert featuring arguably one of the greatest rappers of all time is a joke. “Aha ha. Jay-Z tickets are only $8.” No dumbass, buy a ticket and go! It will be worth it and a smart investment, plus they’re passing out six month free subscriptions to Tidal before you get to your seat.
I don’t care if I have a ticket for an assigned seat, I like to be early for the previews at movies and I like to be early for concerts to get a scope on the demographics of concerts. While I was in line for a baked pretzel, the concession workers were talking to the father and son in front of me. The father had seen Jay Z in concert four times before and this was his teenage son first time seeing him. 4 TIMES?! That’s impressive and it still was mind-blowing to see parents with their children in my section as if Hova was on the level of the Harlem Globetrotters in family entertainment.
Vic Mensa emerged onstage at 8 0’clock on the dot and all I could think about was how much of his show had to be approved by the CEO of his management team, Roc Nation. All artists performing, LISTEN UP!!!!, do not, I repeat, DO NOT PERFORM WITH A BACKING TRACK OR A HYPEMAN! When the Southside, Chicago rapper stopped rapping or singing, nothing was heard except for his band playing. With his vocal performances on the opener, “Say I Didn’t”, “The Fire Next Time”, and “We Could Be Free”, I would enjoy more songs of just him singing. The Malcolm X to Chance The Rapper’s Martin Luther King Jr. did not come to play, which explains, to my dismay, why he did not perform “Down On My Luck”. There were crowd interactions and thanks to the crowd, but with a setlist that included “16 Shots” and “Heaven On Earth”, we were getting songs with a message, no mumble raps here, even bringing out famed spoken word poet, Malik Yusef to deliver words of inspiration in these super, dark times. Vic was about sharing his life story, like on “Memories on 47th Street”, and his opinions on the unjust treatment of Black people by the police by listing all of the victims lost in the last 5 years. After cellphones went up for the lives lost in the recent American mass shooting involving a small church in Texas; there were still moments that got the crowd hype like “U Mad”, “OMG”, and “Rollin’ Like A Stoner” that had one young man at least 19 or 20 running up and down the aisle in front of me screaming at Vic and dancing with his shoulders so hard that I’m sure he was heard all the way from section 318. To my dismay, he did not perform “Down On My Luck” and only did the chorus of “Rage” as his final number. I got to give his debut album, The Autobiography: As Told By Vic Mensa a 4th listen. Nice performance, sir. 4 out of 5.
*30 Minute Intermission*
Images throughout his career appeared on the huge, movable screens living above the 360-stage centred in the middle of American Airlines Center. From Willo Perron, the art director of the tour and album:
During the show, Jay-Z performed on an octagonal stage, placed in the middle of the stadium, with eight vertically-suspended screens hovering above him that showed various camera angles from the stage and footage of peers and family, some of which he erased himself from.
There’s some more production value in this presentation than his set from the Backstage days. “Kill Jay-Z” began and I didn’t sit down, shut up or keep my arms to my sides for the rest of the night as my “rapper hands” took flight and I finally got to say “Never go Eric Benet” in a crowd. (Sidenote: Knowing that thousands of people in several arenas across the country sing in unison not to lose the one you love like you did, must hurt Eric Benet in some way)
There were some positive shoutouts throughout the night. During Act 3: Legacy, the father of 3 and philanthropist mentioned the news of Meek Mill’s controversial sentence of 2 to 4 years of imprisonment. He was in disbelief as small mistakes that did not lead to any charges being filed, could send a young man to prison for punishment thanks to the ill-intentions of probation. After condemning the justice system for stalking Black people from succeeding, he asked for inspirational music for aspiring Black folks and performed “Moonlight”. I finally got my answer why Jay-Z has never been fully invested in a certain religion on “Legacy”. This night, he made sure that we all knew that he believes in love and the light. Love conquers all and always search for the light to guide you out of every dark moment in in your life. Honestly, this moment was beautiful, but what made me want to cry tears of joy was when I realized he was rapping to my section the lines from “U Don’t Know” that’ve bewildered me since middle school. “I sell ice in the winter, I sell fire in hell. I am a hustler, baby, I sell water to a well”. Man, what?!?! In the words of philosopher Joe Budden, “Hov is different.”
No Blueprint 2, Kingdom Come, or American Gangster tracks made it to showtime. Apologies if you were expecting songs from his collabo albums with R. Kelly, but there was a rendition of “N!$$@’s In Paris” that had to be started over after people has already lost their minds once Will Ferrel’s voice filled the arena and the first notes of Hit-Boy’s production played. Speaking of Watch The Throne, there was also a bittersweet moment around Act II as images of family pictures and Kanye from the “Otis” video appeared on the screens before Mr Carter returned to the stage. The collaboration that some probably forget the most from his discography is the Grammy-winning, Linkin Park mash-up, Collison Course. “Numb/Encore” was the closer as the lights went up, cell phones illuminated, and the last bit of life left in our voices were all apart of the dedication to Chester Bennington.
Weeks ago, my sister asked me who would I want to see as a surprise guest, I said, “no one”. My older co-worker, who made me drop the “Beyonce’s husband” moniker to explain who he was to her, contemplated, “Wouldn’t it be exciting if Beyonce joined him on stage?”. Once again, I responded in the negative. My last two chances of seeing Jay Hova preach were joint tours, the legendary and successful, Watch The Throne and On The Run. I still regret not seeing “Otis” performed live, lord knows I miss the old Kanye. The 4:44 Tour, like the title track, even the whole album is a breathing representation of Shawn Corey Carter at his most vulnerable.
Coincidentally, last month, I debated with my friend, whom I went to the concert with, about the subject matter that can be found in the discography of Jay Z. To me, the Marcy Projects rapper has always taught life lessons about family, friends, career goals, and independence over twenty summers. I didn’t understand why he was just now getting praised for his great advice. Maybe it’s easier to understand him over a soulful loop by No ID without being distracted by a banger by Timbaland. Since Reasonable Doubt, he has continuously had moments of clarity (See what I did there?) on every album. All of those Easter eggs have brought us to this point in his life and career, where you can have a “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” to live on the same setlist as “Smile” or “Empire State Of Mind” with “D’Evils”. (BRUH! HE DID “D’EVILS”!) There is nothing for him to hide behind, all of the armor has been stripped by himself and we get to experience a living legend as there is nothing more for him to fear. This is the same man that said he would be forever mackin’ on “Big Pimpin.'” (“Big Pimpin’ on your court steps, in case y’all ain’t noticed, I ain’t lost yet.”) Years later, he is now alone centre stage with a mic and a stand performing the song where he pleaded for his wife to forgive him and exposed his infidelities. Thank you, Mr Carter, you’re far too kind.