The ambition of a hustler knows no boundaries, so it should be no surprise that hip-hop's biggest move maker, Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, has his mind set on thumbing his nose at exhaustion, logistics and good old-fashioned normalcy.
It's hard to think of another artist who would fly to seven cities in 20-something hours, performing concerts at all sites. And Jay-Z — whose latest record, Kingdom Come (due Tuesday), finds him likening himself to the Man of Steel — loves to be the first to do things.
So while most Americans raked leaves or watched football, he spent his weekend (November 18-19) on the Hangar Tour, performing in Atlanta; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; New York; Chicago; Los Angeles; and finally Las Vegas. From the wee hours of Saturday morning in the Dirty South to the wee hours of Sunday morning in Sin City, from the G5 jet to the limos to the stages, MTV News was right by his side. Fasten your safety belts — we're ready for takeoff!
First Stop: Atlanta
Fans are lined up outside Atlanta's Center Stage, waiting to see Jay-Z. Some of them have lawn chairs and blankets. They'd better bundle up; it's going to be a long wait.
Jay-Z's staff is in the lobby waiting for the Jiggaman. He's supposed to be onstage performing in a little over 30 minutes, but he's nowhere to be found yet. Memphis Bleek makes his way down to the lobby, obviously a little tired — Hov and company didn't make it to town till 2:30 a.m. — but as he tells short stories from the recent Jay-Z Global Express Tour, which touched down in Africa, among other places, he seems to get revived. And if fond memories don't do it for you, Hotlanta's chill will.
"It's mad brick out here," Bleek says as he stands outside the Ritz Carlton hotel, waiting as the van marked "#3" is being loaded with luggage. Jay's DJ, the Evil Genius Green Lantern, comes down, as well as longtime Roc-A-Fella A&R man Lenny Santiago.
Jay, wearing a white hoodie and jeans, comes off the elevator and simply says, "History in the making, part 18" before driving off into the early-morning darkness in a jet-black Benz. It's time to rock.
We arrive at the venue. There's a line outside like the fans are waiting to buy PS3s. And that's just the people who are not getting in.
6:10 a.m. - Backstage at Center Stage
"They got some people outside, huh," Jay says. "I can't wait to see what 2:30 in Vegas is going to be like."
After a short warm-up by DJ Green Lantern, Bleek and Hov hit the stage to the sounds of "Kingdom Come." "I don't know what H-I-P-H-O-P would be without H-O-V."
Hov goes into "PSA," followed by "U Don't Know," which ends with everyone throwing up the Roc signs and bouncing.
Jay tells all the kids his album is dropping on Tuesday. Regardless of the leak, he says to cop it.
"This is a moment in time," he says from the stage. "It's more than history."
The concert continues with "30 Something," "Jigga My N---a" "Hola' Hovito" and "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)."
"I got a lot of records; I'm trying to run through 'em," he says. "F--- it, let's keep it bouncin'." Then he begins "Big Pimpin'."
"How y'all doing this sh--?" he asks the crowd. The energy has been overflowing from the outset. You would think it were normal concert hours. "Oh, y'all ain't gone home [yet]. Y'all came straight from the club."
The concert continues with "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)."
"Show Me What You Got" comes on.
"What the f--- you want me to do? I'm not sorry I'm back!" Jay says during the record's intro with horns blaring.
The show doesn't end with his current single. ("We running a little over," he says from the stage. "We're supposed to be in the air now.") Jay does a freestyle.
"Think you in my class, substitute n---a, gonna feel my wrath ..."
The last number, "Encore," starts.
Jay comes off the stage and says, "One down, six more to go." A police escort is waiting to take Hov and his cavalcade to the airport.
The sun rises.
Jay gets on his jet. It actually has his picture on it and reads "Kingdom Come" over one of the engines.
Next Stop: Philadelphia
Superman is in the air. The jet has taken off, and Hov is on the way to Philly. Jay's laid-back, sitting in his chair at the front of the plane.
"I'm crazy," Jay says when asked why he's trying to complete such an ambitious effort. "I'm trying to bring some excitement back to the game."
Jay explains his coming out of retirement as Jordan coming back — not with the Washington Wizards but with the Chicago Bulls. Like MJ, Hov says he's due for some more championships. Although he knows people will be extra critical of him, he's not feeling the pressure.
The conversation shifts from why he can't physically go see a movie in the theater (hasn't been in four years) to hip-hop concerts and MCing to his recollections of being on "Yo! MTV Raps" with Jaz-O — it was his first time on MTV, period. "I was the second guy."
Wheels down. Superman is in New Jersey. The flight has been relatively quiet. Jay's manager, John Meneilly, wanted him to catch an hour of sleep, but Jay is up. He's ready. He's kickin' it.
Jay steps on Philly soil. "Second show, baby," he says before stepping into another black Benz.
Arrive at Electric Factory. It's packed.
Jay walks up to the stage holding a cup of coffee as Green Lantern plays warm-up songs. When "Kingdom Come" comes on, Jay puts his drink down and casually strolls onstage, hitting his mark for the beginning of the first verse.
"You gotta have a real Jay-Z album. You gotta get on your grown-man sh--," he says to the crowd minutes into the show, giving them provocation to buy the official version of Kingdom Come versus copping the bootleg.
"I thought I'd come down and drop a couple of songs, say what's up," he says later. "But I tried to tell them, it's f---in' Philly — I can't get off that easy. So we might have to shorten someone else's set."
The crowd performs Jay's first verse from "Big Pimpin' " right down to "Get your ass in here and let's ri-i-i-i-i-ide."
"I told y'all, this is Philly, they crazy."
Jay continues to play with the crowd — "We really gotta go. We only have 17 hours. Y'all don't give a f---, right?" — and goes into his next record, "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)."
Peedi Peedi comes backstage.
The concert is done. Jay leaves the stage sprinting. "Two down, five to go. Let's go baby, next spot," he says.
"Hov! Hov! I f---in' love you!" a girl screams at the top of her lungs.
"I f---in' love you," Jay yells back. He gets into his car.
"He doesn't know I'm his number-one fan. Hovvvvv! I'm your number-one fan."
Cars pull out and two women in heels chase the caravan. They decide to give up after a few steps.
Everyone arrives back at the airport and begins boarding the plane. It's off to D.C.!
Next Stop: D.C.
No sleep till Brooklyn? Jay hasn't taken a nap yet, and he's looking like he could go a whole 24 hours without sleep. It's approximately a 25-minute flight (in actual airtime) from Philly to D.C., and a few radio-contest winners get to chill with Jay-Z on his jet. They're stuntin' right now. A couple are calling their girlfriends and asking Jay to talk on the cell.
Hov, very much the gracious host, fulfills the request. He's in a great mood.
There are three private jets filled with Jay-Z team members, and the plane carrying Memphis Bleek and Green Lantern is way more calm. The convo ranges from Jay's recent Global Express Tour stops in Africa to the state of beef in hip-hop. The ride is long enough for M Extra Money (that's Bleek's nickname) to sip tea with honey for his throat and catch a catnap.
When he wakes up, Green teases him, incorporating one of Bleek's own songs to do so: "Memph Bleek is ... tired. Memph Bleek is ... exhausted!"
Bleek laughs and picks up the cell phone that fell out of his hand when he was asleep. "This is the lifestyle I chose," he says with a wide grin, possibly paraphrasing Hyman Roth in "Godfather II," before stepping off the aircraft. It's time to go back to work.
The wheels on Jay's jet just touched down. The caravan heads to Howard University.
Jay's onstage at Howard University. The crowd is going crazy. Maybe it's because Jay is performing outside, maybe it's because it's a little later in the day, but the outpouring of love for Hov in D.C. is right on par with the other two cities he's already visited today.
During a break in the action, a T-shirt is thrown onstage. "I absolutely had to choose D.C. as one of the cities on my tour," Jay proclaims.
One of the great moments of the first two shows is repeated in D.C., as everyone in the crowd throws up their Rocs at the end of "U Don't Know." Jay then tells the crowd to buy his album on Tuesday because listening to the downloaded version is like "wearing fake jewelry — it's not cool."
Somebody throws another black T onto the stage, and Jay catches it with his left hand. "See, I'm a ball player," he says before tossing the shirt back into the crowd, behind his back.
Hov puts his personal touch on "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)" by talking directly to a girl in the audience, "Black and white coat, take that off." The girl screams back, "I love you!"
The set has to end by 1 p.m. because Howard's football team has a game, so Jay is forced to leave D.C. without performing his hater-addressing freestyle or "Encore."
Running offstage again, Jay stops to give Lil' Mo, who is standing behind the stage, a hug and poses for photos with a few female fans posted outside the SUV that'll take him back to the airport.
"What's that, three?" he asks about how many shows he's performed.
Jay's approximately halfway from Howard to the airport, getting ready to head up to New York.
Next Stop: New York
3:00 p.m. - Teterboro, New Jersey
Hovie's home, baby. The Jiggaman's three jets just touched down within a couple of minutes of each other. The flight from D.C. was filled with stories of shady show promoters from Hov's past on the hip-hop chitlin' circuit, and Jay had a quick opportunity to grab a bite to eat.
While spreading a little mayo on his sandwich, Hov drops the bread on his pants, and it falls to his sneakers. "Oh, that's tragic," he says calmly — about as calmly as you can when using the word "tragic" in a sentence. "Can I get another piece of bread, please?" he asks the flight attendant. " 'Cause it's really the bread that's more pressing," he adds, stressing that his mini meal is more important than the minor stains on his attire. It's not like he doesn't have a lot more clothes with him.
Sure enough, Jay later emerges from his jet in a new pair of jeans and a white hoodie with pictures of safety pins all over it.
When the wheels touched down, another cavalcade of cars were waiting for Jay, but this time his blue Maybach was there to carry him to the show. Off to Pier 54 on New York's Hudson River.
As we pull up to the backstage area, it literally feels like some sheik is rolling up. A couple of dozen guys are on the left side holding red flags with Jay's picture and the words "Kingdom Come" printed on them. There's also a large crew of young men holding up posters of Jay's recent XXL magazine cover.
"We in New York f---in' city, it's gotta be the liveliest," he tells the crowd during his set. After he makes his way through is set and finishes up "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," Jay says, "This is the part I leave you and get back on the plane!"
The crowd starts yelling, "No, no!" and "Hova, Hova!"
Sorry, NYC, Jay may be yours, but you have to share him today.
"What's this, five?" Jay asks while getting offstage. "No, four? Five? Four! I'm starting to lose track."
Next Stop: Chicago
On the way to the Windy City!
This is the very human side of rap. Jay is finally going to get some rest on this trip. Friends such as Steve Stoute and Tyran "Ty-Ty" Smith joined him in NYC. But as they talk it up, Jay keeps to himself. He's had a day.
Meanwhile on Memphis Bleek's plane, the day has caught up to Jay's young rhyme partner as well as DJ Green Lantern. The two start slouching down in their chairs, and although the flight is headed for Chicago, these two are going to dreamland. With at least two hours to the next spot, it's a great chance to catch up on some sleep.
"Yeah, I'm good," Bleek says about his fatigue status. He hasn't caught his second wind yet, but the Marcy Projects rep insists that once he gets the four hours of rest he's counting on going from the Chi to L.A., that's when he'll fully recharge.
"Yeah, this is kinda sick," Bleek continues, assessing the day. "I know they must be really bugging," he adds, referring to the contest winners who are rounding out his plane's guest list. All the winners actually won the chance to travel with Jay at a respective tour stop. Some had their names picked out of a bag, some won by text messaging a number provided by Cingular and being randomly picked.
An hour into the flight, the only talking you hear on the plane is coming from Vito Corleone: "The Godfather" is playing on a TV.
Once the flight lands, it's more bragging rights for the lucky contest winners. "Naw, naw," says one guy talking on his cell phone. He's telling a friend what's happening — apparently he hasn't heard through the grapevine. "Jay-Z! Yeah, Jay-Z. I been on his jet. He has his name on it and everything. I was just with Memphis Bleek!!!"
Another is already planning his schedule once the Hangar Tour hits its final stop in Vegas. "I'm getting married," he jokes. "Yeah, I'm getting right in the same sh-- as Britney Spears."
"We going places in one day, man, where some people never get a chance to go," another one says.
8:25 p.m. (Central Time)
"I think D.C. is the livest so far, but I think y'all going for the title," Jay tells the crowd.
The basic format of the show runs the same, but there are no words from Hov as he gets offstage. He just heads right into the car.
At the airport before boarding, Jay takes more pictures with the contest winners.
"Oh y'all the new winners?" Bleek asks, with his voice getting raspy. "You hear my voice? We almost at the end."
Wheels up. We're leaving Chi and on the way to L.A.
10:40 p.m. (Pacific Time) — Los Angeles
Everyone is waiting for Hov's plane.
All day Jay has been the first to land, but here, Memph Bleek and DJ Green Lantern touch West Coast soil first.
It's taken four hours to get from Chi-Town to L.A. After switching jets to a more intimate eight-seater (Bleek and Green had been rolling at least 12 deep with fans), the Memph Man and the Evil Genius finally get to eat dinner — or maybe the time difference makes it technically a second breakfast? While Bleek devours his chicken, Green isn't so in love with his steak.
It's all good though, because some meaty convo about hip-hop takes place. One of the biggest misconceptions about Bleek is that he only learned about the rap game under the tutelage of Jay-Z. Nah, money. The veteran Bleek can tell you stories about battling Wu-Tang family member Shyheim the Rugged Child in the early '90s, and later rapping for Ghostface and RZA. Bleek says his skills impressed the Wu so much that at one point they were courting him to join their organization.
Bleek is also cousins with Steele from Smif-N-Wessun and Sean Price (a.k.a. Ruck) from Heltah Skeltah. He has stories about being 9 years old, trying to get them to put him on. "I'm very happy they didn't and I got a chance to get with Jay," he says.
Green's been around the game for a long time too — ask him about K-Solo if you ever get the chance. Lantern displays his knowledge of hip-hop, from calling out the "Apache" breakbeat in Nas' "Made You Look" to traveling down memory lane with Bleek — both give props to MCs they think are nice, like Positive K and A Tribe Called Quest's Phife Dawg.
Jay's plane is way more lively than it was on the previous leg of the trip. Hov is catching some Z's in the front ("I go to sleep every time we take off," he says) while in the back, MTV News' Sway is slaying the comp at dominoes.
Jay-Z emerges from his jet.
Sway and Green Lantern share a quick joke before leaving the airport. "C'mon Green, you going to step outside and enjoy this Cali weather?" Sway says, standing outside the SUV Green and Bleek are sitting in. "I feel good! I could do, like, six more of these."
"Hey Sway!" Green hollers back. "You was ghostridin' the plane?"
It feels so good to roll like the president. Jay and company have had police escorts all day to help navigate through traffic, but the wheels stop rolling after a few minutes in Cali. The caravan pauses to get drinks at a place called the Daily Grill (except for the sleeping Bleek, who stays in the SUV). Jay sips a beer and glances at ESPN while contest winners have beer or mixed drinks. A few moments later, Hov proposes a toast, and with drinks aloft, he tells everyone it is a blessing to have them traveling with him.
Everyone loads up — time to go to the show.
12:30 a.m. (Sunday)
"Hova" chants ring inside the Wiltern Theater. Jay is just minutes from getting on.
Jiggaman hits the stage with "Kingdom Come." After the song, while the fans are yelling "Hova" again, Jay's tour manager Randy can be heard yelling, "We lost power!" It's just a momentary lapse in juice, though, because the next record comes on without a hitch. A male fan jumps onstage and is quickly grabbed by security.
Denzel Washington suddenly appears on the side of the stage, virtually unnoticed, with a black ball cap pulled over his eyebrows. He's smiling throughout while standing next to his son.
"I'm a little jet-lagged," Jay calls out. "Y'all gonna help me out?"
"PSA" is coming to an end — it's just about time to go back to the airport. As the cars in President Carter's procession pull off, fans filing out of the Wiltern throw up Roc signs.
Next Stop: Las Vegas
Can you believe Jay got to his hotel in ATL 27 hours ago? It's been a long, long day but the excitement is unparalleled. Things are taking a toll on Bleek, however.
"I'm done. All I want to do is gamble," M-Easy says the minute his Timberlands touch the tarmac.
Inside the van that's taking him to the Tao Nightclub in Vegas — Jay's last destination — Bleek lays down some Vegas rules for the contest winners.
"You know, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," he says. "They call this ..."
"The adult Disneyland," the van's driver offers.
"F---in' with Jay on the blackjack table, you'll never lose," Bleek adds. "You know who the illest craps players is? Irv Gotti and Chris Gotti. I watched Chris win big in Atlantic City one time."
The line outside Tao is ridiculous. If you're just rolling up, there's no way you're getting in — sure enough, one of the bouncers comes up and yells for everyone to leave. "We're filled to capacity!" he says.
Boxing announcer Michael Buffer stands on a stage smack-dab in the middle of Tao. Chris Rock and actor Donald Faison look on as Buffer introduces Jay.
In true dramatic form, Hov, with Bleek and Tao security in tow, makes his way to the stage not from backstage — as he's done for most of the day — but through the crowd, letting people touch him as he passes by.
There to greet him, right in the front row, are the rhythmically challenged Hilton sisters, who dance offbeat — way offbeat — but show love to the Roc nonetheless.
"It's been a real long day," Jay says a few minutes into his set. "We absolutely had to make sure we ended this in Las Vegas. Don't be actin' booji [bourgeois] — I'm exhausted."
Later in the set, Jay rolls out "99 Problems" for the first time all day. During the second verse DJ Green Lantern switches the beat to the instrumental of Lynyrd Skynyrd's redneck anthem "Sweet Home Alabama" while Jay raps and the Hiltons throw up Roc-A-Fella signs.
During "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)," Jay throws what seems to be a shout-out to Paris, rapping, "Them sparkles on your dress, take that off," possibly referring to Hilton's shiny dress.
"Peace and love," Jay says, leaving the stage the way he entered: through the crowd.
"We did it!" Jay exalts to the 40-plus people in his ever-swelling entourage. Out of nowhere, Jacob the Jeweler emerges to give him even more kudos.
Some 26 hours and 4,000-something miles after the first show began, this long, long day ends on a note of love and laughter when Sway jokes that Jay has done it so big that he can retire.
Everyone breaks out laughing. Obviously, Hov isn't going anywhere but his jet.
Check out Jay-Z: The Video Vault Experience for video from the Hangar Tour — and throughout Jay's entire career.
[This story was originally published at 7:08 a.m. ET on 11.18.2006]