WANTAGH, New York — When you hear Jay-Z say "Hovie's home," try not to just think in terms of his hometown. Think about Jigga returning to the stage for his first tour run since last year's Blueprint outings.
Jay had the best of both worlds Tuesday night, performing in New York City's unofficial sixth borough, Long Island, for the start of the Sprite Liquid Mix Tour along with 311, Nappy Roots, Hoobastank, N.E.R.D., Talib Kweli, Borialis, Nonpoint and Blackalicious. (Click here for photos from the show)
Literally making himself at home, Jay — who came on after 311 sang and rapped about losing love, getting the urge to smoke and always being down despite changing some (some) — dubbed the Tommy Hilfiger at Jones Beach Theater "the Roc-A-Wear Theater" as he stood in front of backdrop of a project building with NYC skyscrapers behind it.
"Hovie's home," he proclaimed before going into "Guess Who's Back," while Beanie Sigel entered the stage riding on a low-rider bicycle. "Guess who's bizack, the boy B. Mizack," Sigel rhymed after Jay finished the first verse.
"How many people out there're ready for The Blueprint ?" Jay asked the crowd, whose cheers were their vocal thumbs-up. Jay took the response as a signal to perform a selection from his November 5 release (see "Jay-Z Returns From European Vacation, Ready To Hit Studio").
"Just the intro, just the intro," Jay said of what he was about to unleash. With no music playing in the background, Jigga started to rhyme about a dream he had in which he talked to the Notorious B.I.G.'s ghost. The two discussed the all the playa hating going on in rap, why Biggie died and why Jay should pay his naysayers no mind ("Then he said, 'Like I said before, just keep doing your thing,' he said/ Say no more").
This led into the most energetic portion of Jigga's set as he and Dame Dash pounded the air with their fists for "You Don't Know,' then Memphis Bleek joined the fray to exchange verses with Jay and Beans on "You, Me, Him and Her" ("Amil-lion, gone!" the trio said on the chorus, referring to the former Roc first lady Amil) and "Change the Game," where the audience exclaimed along with Bleek, "Who the f---/ Want/ What?"
The Killer B's weren't the only Roc family members Jay showcased. Freeway, whose debut, Philadelphia Freeway, is dropping in October, had a mini-set within Jay's program. (Cam'ron and the Diplomats were the only members of the R.O.C.'s rap clique who were not in attendance.)
"It's Freeway in the place with B. Sig," he rhymed on his duet with Sigel, "Roc the Mic." "And I got what it takes to rock the mic right, yeah/ Still watch what you say to me, p---k/ 'Cause I got what it takes to dump the AK clip." Verses from his guest spot on Faith Evans' "Burnin' Up" remix and Jay's "1-900-Hustler" followed before he closed with a new selection from his album, "What We Do."
Bleek then ran through a solo set of his own, with his finale being "1, 2, Y'all," the new single from his October 29 release, Misunderstood, which features Jay-Z and Geda K.
Jay squelched any tedium the audience may have been feeling hearing some of the newer, unfamiliar material with his crossover classics "N---a What, N---a Who (Originators '99)" and "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)." The show then came to a halt again as Dash took time out to present Jay with a plaque, commemorating over 15 million records sold.
Jay couldn't decide which one of his hits from those albums he wanted for his grand finale. Lenny Santiago, Jay's A&R at Roc-A-Fella and DJ for the night, threw a few songs at him, but none were moving him.
Finally, "Big Pimpin' " won out as Jay bounced along with his fans until a loud pyro explosion scared the usually calm and collected wordsmith. Hunched over and laughing at himself, Hovie left his home, telling everyone, "That's it."
The Sprite show came to a halt for some audience members even earlier in the day. Security guards escorted out fans who were jumping railings to come to the front of the then-half-empty venue as one of the first acts on the main stage, N.E.R.D., were performing.
"You should let the fans do what they want to do," the group's frontman, Pharrell Williams, urged the security team a few songs into his group's set. As some crowd members continued scurrying about the venue and being chased by security, Pharrell and company seemed to revel in the disobedience.
"In life, it's all about being a rebel," Williams rationalized after "Let's Stay Together." "We're not breaking the rules because we want to be a--holes."
The energy level for N.E.R.D reached its zenith as Pharrell started beat boxing the drum pattern to "Grindin'," the street anthem by his artists, the Clipse.
"The world is about to feel something that they've never felt before," Pharrell boasted, reciting his intro on the song. Meanwhile, the beat kicked in and the song's stars made a surprise appearance to perform. "Griiin-din'/ You know what I keep in a line-in'/ N---as better stay in line when/ You see a n---a like me shiiin-in'," the crowd sang along in unison.
The crowd and performers remained unified in their disdain for the security personnel during Hoobastank's set.
"I just thought that I'd let you know/ Being near you is/ A gift I only wish I could treasure/ But for now I'll sit and wait," lead singer Doug Robb sang on "Let You Know" before being distracted.
"You're gonna kick them out?" Robb asked security, questioning their treatment of few fans standing in the aisles, separated from the stage by a steal barricade. "I'm gonna come to you, then."
Robb then came down into the floor seats, giving the audience all the intimacy of a lounge singer. "You want to take a picture?" he asked a girl who was clamoring for flicks before saying cheese. "Who else wants to take a picture?" Walking down the aisles, he started talking to the crowd, even telling one guy he should pursue singing. By the time the band started playing "Hello Again," a small crowd of spectators formed around Robb and they all started jumping, conjuring memories of Kris Kross in their first video.
Meanwhile, Talib Kweli was performing in front of a small crowd of his own on the second stage, which also housed Nonpoint, Blackalicious and Borialis. Kweli kicked his titanium-strong metaphors, performing hits such as "The Blast" and new selections like "Waiting for the DJ."
On the mic, Talib showed no signs of frustration, but after his performance, he lamented about not being able to reap the benefits that come from being a part of such an eclectic mix of performers.
"I'm not going to get new fans if they keep me on the lower herb stage," Kweli griped. "They need to move me to the bigger stage, that's what they need to do. We're going to try and make it happen."
Clutch, whose group, Nappy Roots, was the first act up on the main stage with an early afternoon timeslot, assessed the situation. "You gripe at the beginning, but then you realize that you have to get over it, so it don't even matter," he said.
"It's a dirty job, but someone has to get the party started," his rap brethren Skinny DeVille added, before Clutch conceded it wasn't so bad.
"It was a lot of love out there," Clutch said. "We got good feedback."