EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige’s Heart of the City Tour came together as easily on Friday night as his and R. Kelly’s Best of Both Worlds twin bill fell apart in New York three and a half years ago.
At that show, Kelly claimed concertgoers were waving guns at him while he was on the Madison Square Garden stage. The Chicago singer bolted from the stage after telling fans he couldn’t continue. Jay-Z came to the rescue that night with one of his most memorable shows ever, bringing everyone from Foxy Brown to Usher to his Roc-A-Fella camp out for guest performances. Blige was also one of the guests, and the feisty singer joined Jay for the rest of that tour, which morphed into Jay-Z and Friends.
Fast-forward to 2008 at the Izod Center, and these two New York giants are sharing the stage as headliners.
An opening video montage of the two appeared on a screen above the stage. “Very seldom do we have a mix of people that mean so much to the culture,” Hov declared. This message was clear: we can all get along.
Mary and Jay opened the show side-by-side as they performed his hit “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” which featured Blige on the chorus. They went on to perform individual sets, with Blige up first, but they both maintained a presence during each other’s performances.
Jay popped up on the remix of “Real Love,” replacing another Brooklyn icon, the Notorious B.I.G., and Mary joined Jay for “Song Cry.”
Blige controlled the crowd during her hourlong performance. She ran through her hits early, breezing through “Sweet Thing,” “Love No Limit” and “My Life.”
For “No More Drama,” the singer overpowered the crowd’s chants for her, each note dripping with emotion. She didn’t even have to sing a word for “Not Gon’ Cry,” as the crowd picked up the load for her. “Your Child” featured dancers interpreting the verses as Blige sang.
Jay-Z, on the other hand, is never one to be outdone. The Brooklyn rap star entered an hour after Blige’s set began. He teased the crowd with “Say Hello” from his American Gangster album, while images from the movie “Reservoir Dogs” played in the background.
He quickly launched into “Roc Boys,” with his 16-piece band in tow. “I Know” followed, before Jay visited his vault of hits. “I got a million of these,” Jay said, then went into “Can I Get A …” The track for “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” boomed from the speakers. “I told y’all, I got a million of these,” he said again, chuckling.
“Y’all are ready for change, right?” he asked the crowd. But instead of going into the next song, Hov changed directions. As Jay’s done on other stops during the tour, a picture of Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama appeared on the screen behind the stage.
“This concert isn’t sponsored by Barack Obama or nothing like that,” Jay said. “I’m just voicing my opinion as a citizen of America.”
Jay then quickly dove back to his chart-toppers. And how many of them he’s had: He walked over to the DJ, Neil Armstrong, and zipped through a series of his songs on a computer, briefly exciting the crowd each time before moving on to a new track.
“Sorry, B,” he joked, as he zoomed by “Crazy in Love.”
Jay ended with his one-two punch of “Big Pimpin” and “Encore,” and then Mary joined him for the show outro, “Heart of the City.”
This time, when the best met, there were no guests, threats or problems.