Jay-Z spent years trying to take his music past Brooklyn's borders. Long gone are the days Jigga spent honing his skills under the tutelage of his mentor Jaz-O and cutting underground gems with Original Flavor; on Friday night (September 28), Jay-Z returned to his hometown, performing in a stadium he co-owns.
It was only the opening day of Hov's eight-concert stand, and Brooklyn's Barclays Center will now forever be known as the house that Hovie built, but he didn't come alone. No, there was no Kanye West, no Rihanna and no Rick Ross; instead, Jay-Z embodied the spirit of every Brooklyn rapper who has ever mattered.
Shortly after 9:30 p.m., the house lights began to dim and the jazzy Roy Ayers classic "We Live In Brooklyn, Baby" began to fill Barclays while images of Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson and other Brooklyn greats flashed on Jigga's elaborate angled stage screen.
"Tonight is a celebration, a celebration of where I'm from," Hov told the crowd before launching into the hard-hitting "Where I'm From" from his 1997 album, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. The homage didn't stop there; next was the Santigold-sampling "Brooklyn We Go Hard" followed by a heartfelt cover of the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Kick in the Door" and then a crowd sing-a-long of Biggie's first hit "Juicy."
Before Jay-Z, it was Biggie Smalls who served as king of BK's rap throne, and before the Notorious One, it was Big Daddy Kane. So when Jay stopped to address the crowd, telling the 19,000 fanatics that it was a "long journey to get here," you got the sense he wasn't just talking about moving the Nets to Atlantic Avenue. Jay-Z's rule over rap was also a long and winding road.
After stripping off his bubble vest revealing a black Nets jersey with the number four on his chest (to commemorate his own December 4 birthday), the God MC tore through tracks like "99 Problems," "Run This Town" and "Empire State of Mind" one by one. He even threw in a brand-new a cappella freestyle to the crowd's delight. "Shooters on my team, no really I got shooters on my team," he spit, making reference to his part ownership of the Nets and the street ties he still claims to carry.
Jay did all his hits like "Big Pimpin' " and "Hard Knock Life," but also showed love to his day-one fans rocking early catalog songs like "Dead Presidents," "Can I Live" and the underground track "Marcyville." The crowd continually showered him with praise, adoration and, of course, boisterous Brooklyn chants to mark the occasion.
A little more than an hour into his set, Jay struck up the band for "Encore," his supposed swan song. But just like his 2003 retirement, fans knew it wouldn't be long before Jay would return to the stage. A good five minutes passed, and then the pride of Marcy Projects returned. First, there was the matter-of-fact brag record "What More Can I Say" and then 1999's party anthem "Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up)."
During the track's second verse, Jay paused the record and surprised fans with a cameo from 1980s rap legend Big Daddy Kane, who would perform his rap classic "Ain't No Half Steppin'," "Set It off" and "Warm It Up Kane." It was BDK who gave Jay an early shot on his 1994 single "Show & Prove," and now it was Hov's turn to pay him back, allowing the Brooklyn native to share his moment — a moment that may have not otherwise come. "Big Daddy Kane was before me, before B.I.G.; we gotta understand our history," Jay urged.
With the night drawing to a close, the Blueprint MC ripped through his verse on G.O.O.D. Music's "Clique," Rick Ross' "3 Kings" and May's R&B classic remix for "Best of Me." "I got a million of these," the rap veteran bragged.
Before closing with his Blueprint III single "Young Forever," Jay — who was quite overwhelmed — told the crowd he believes everyone has genius-level talent; it's just some tap into it and others do not. "I ain't no mother----in' different from anybody here tonight," he exclaimed, "and I'm standing on this stage."
Yeah, Jay-Z has come a long way.