NEW YORK — It felt like the next Summer Jam had come early on Tuesday night when Jay-Z and his friends took over Madison Square Garden for two and a half hours.
The “best of both worlds” reunited, Mary J. Blige took ’em to church, Beyoncé repped for her baby boy, and the Ill Na Na proved there’s no more bad blood. Judging by the nonstop screaming, everyone in the sold-out arena — even those who bought tickets from scalpers for up to $800 — felt like they got their money’s worth.
“We came to Madison Square Garden to hear a legendary superstar,” boxing announcer Michael Buffer told the crowd as a Roc-A-Fella jersey bearing Jay-Z’s name was elevated to the rafters. After giving a final shout-out to “the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world in hip-hop,” Buffer howled out his signature line, “Let’s get ready to rumble!”
“Are you not entertained?” asked Russell Crowe’s voice, sampled from “Gladiator,” signaling the start of “What More Can I Say.” Hov came out wearing a black T-shirt bearing the face of Notorious B.I.G., rhyming, “Never has there been a n—a this good for this long/ This ’hood or this pop, it’s hot.”
“I put together a special evening for y’all,” he later said, after performances of “Public Service Announcement” and “Jigga My N—a.” “Tonight is a charity night. We still gonna have a lot of fun.”
Screens rose to reveal the ?uestlove-fronted band the Illadelphonics, who backed Jay on “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” “Hovi Baby” and “N—a What, N—a Who (Originator ’99),” on which Memphis Bleek came out as a hype man. The beat went from band to DAT for “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” and “Big Pimpin’.” “Oh, I love it,” Hov yelled to the cheering fans. “Y’all mutha—-ers is crazy.”
After “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” and a brief tribute to fallen stars Aaliyah, Big L, Jam Master Jay, Big Pun, Tupac and Biggie, Jay-Z and Damon Dash brought out Tupac’s mom, Afeni Shakur, and Biggie’s mom, Voletta Wallace, to present them with $25,000 checks for their sons’ respective foundations.
Then it was back to the party. Jigga brought out most of his Roc fam, which included Bleek, the Young Gunz, M.O.P. and Beanie Sigel (who is still under house arrest) for a barrage of their greatest hits and current speaker-blowers like “Roc the Mic,” “What We Do” and “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop.” Missy Elliott and Twista came out to help on “Is That Yo Bitch.”
Jay’s next guest star brought out her own guest star. Beyoncé, dressed in a black sequined top and skirt and accompanied by dancers, looked like she was in a Broadway musical. She started off with “Crazy in Love,” then segued into “Baby Boy” (sans Sean Paul) and ended with the “Summertime” remix. Ghostface Killah, in a sparkling black robe and wearing more gaudy jewelry than Mr. T, performed his verse on the track. Then the stage faded to black.
Jay reemerged full of calm swagger, wearing a suit and hat. He dedicated his next set to the fans who were “riding with him since day one” and went into records circa Reasonable Doubt (1996) and In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997). Hova strolled the stage with one hand in pocket, audibly reliving his years as a hustler in Marcy Projects on records like “Dead Presidents,” “Can I Live” and “Where I’m From.”
Foxy Brown turned the energy up a notch when she made arguably the most surprising appearance of the night, considering she had lately been saying in the press that she and Jay were having problems. “Ain’t no n—a like the one I got,” the chinchilla-fur-wearing rapper said with a smile.
Sticking to the Reasonable Doubt era, Mary J. Blige came out and performed “Can’t Knock the Hustle.” The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul then laid down some rousing ad-libs singing backup on “Song Cry.’
“It’s so f—ing soulful!” Jay said in amazement before telling M.J.B. to take the crowd to church. The beat switched to LL Cool J’s “I Need Love” and Jay dropped a freestyle about his past relationships with women and his current one with Beyoncé. “Ma, cry me a river, build a bridge and get over it/ … I know the difference between a bitch and a B.”
“This is history being made,” Mary yelled after a brief solo set of “Be Happy,” “Family Affair,” “My Life” and “Not Today.” “Jay-Z, don’t leave us,” she continued. “We need you.”
The Roc general returned with yet another guest, Pharrell Williams, for “Frontin’ ” “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)” and “Change Clothes.” But it was Jay’s collabo with another singer/songwriter/producer that got the crowd screaming the loudest.
“Welcome to the best of both worlds,” announced the voice of a backstage R. Kelly. With the audience frantically shrieking, the two mic kings came out dressed in white T-shirts, pants, sneakers and long snorkel coats.
“I pull up with the big boy truck and the big boy drop/ We be the only big boys that the big boys watch/ Sing to ’em, Kell,” Jay rapped.
“Best of both worlds!,” Kelly sang back.
After running around the stage during “Shake Ya Body,” the duo stood triumphantly in the middle of the stage in b-boy stances, taking in the jubilation. The pairing of Jay and Kelly was emotional for many of the fans, who had hoped to see a full-blown tour in 2002 before those plans were squelched by Kelly’s sex scandal. “Get This Money,” “Somebody’s Girl” and the remix of “Fiesta” followed before Jay let Kelly have his own set.
Kelly sang the remixes of “Ignition” and “Step in the Name of Love,” the latter of which featured the crooner stepping out of his sneakers and sliding around the stage, stepping like he does in the video. Then, like he’s been doing on tour, Kells sang a new song called “Sex in the Kitchen” a cappella.
When Kelly finished, Jay returned one last time wearing a Kenyon Martin Nets jersey and announced that pretty soon the Garden may not be the only place to see a New York NBA team. “I’m in heavy negotiations to bring the Nets to Brooklyn,” Jigga said.
Then he said he was done partying for the night and just wanted to vibe. For his closing song he performed “December 4th,” giving a personal account of his life. While it will be hard for Jay to top what happened at the Garden Tuesday night, it probably won’t be his last show. He’s said he wants to go on a second outing of the Rock the Mic tour, and his wish list for the bill includes Outkast and N.E.R.D.
For more on Jay-Z and R. Kelly, check out Jay-Z: What More Can I Say and R. Kelly: Teflon Superstar.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.