NEW YORK —
Before performing the song, Jay addressed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"They believed that it would weaken us; they were sadly mistaken," he said. "I saw the strength and resiliency that made New Yorkers New Yorkers. Now we stand here eight years later even stronger. This is our town. We run this town, New York City. New York City, we run this town."
Rihanna started the record with the chorus but didn't come to the forefront of the stage until after Jay's second verse. Kanye brought the most energy, jumping off the stairs on a mini-stage where Jay's Roc Boys band played.
During Kanye's verse, Rihanna demonstrated West's words. "She got an a-- that'll swallow up her G-string," Kanye rapped, as Rih placed one of her hands on her posterior. "And up top, uh, two bee stings," he said as the singer placed both hands on her breasts momentarily.
After the record, the three soaked up their victorious performance. Rihanna left the stage, but Kanye stayed to rock "Can't Tell Me Nothin'."
"Jay, can I do one more before I get outta here?" Kanye asked the Jiggaman. A unified yell came came from the crowd as he started "Good Life."
"Answer the Call" started a little early. Jay was originally slated to get on at precisely 9:11 p.m., but he appeared around 9:05 instead. But who's complaining? DJ Biz Markie warmed the audience up, spinning pop hits form the '80s like Madonna's "Holiday" and hip-hop classics like his "Just a Friend." Some firemen in uniform were having fun singing, "Oh baby you, got what I neeeeed," at the MSG concession stand.
When it was time for Jay-Z, a huge video screen appeared shaped like the New York City skyline, with Hov's band underneath on a smaller stage. Jay held court dressed in all black on the big stage.
"Empire State of Mind" was the opening number. Alicia Keys wasn't there — you'll have to wait for the VMAs on Sunday for that — but Jay did have a background singer with strong pipes.
"Is New York City in the house tonight?" he asked. The Brooklyn native then devoted his attention to one borough in particular. No surprise there.
"Brooklyn Go Hard" followed, with guests Santigold and Memphis Bleek hyping the situation.
"P.S.A." and "Heart of the City" provided back-to-back adrenaline rushes. Kid Cudi came out next for Blueprint 3's "Already Home."
"They say that I'm in the way, they want me to sit with them," Jay rapped, facing Cudi while Kid bopped and threw in ad libs. "But what they admitting is, they ain't got sh-- for him/ But really the fact is, we not in the same bracket/ Not in the same league, don't shoot at the same baskets/ Don't pay the same taxes, hang with the same bi---es/ So how am I in the way, what is it I'm missing?"
"We just warming up!" Hov said next. "You Don't Know" followed, with John Mayer helping out on guitar. The Grammy winner then played a medley of familiar Jay-strumentals: " '03 Bonnie and Clyde," "Run This Town," "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" and finally, when it came to riffs from "D.O.A.," Jay did the entire record.
"I got a song for those people in a cave that attacked New York City," Jay said further along in the show. "I want New York City to be with me on this one. For all those people hiding in a cave.
"I got 99 Problems, but a bi--- ain't one,'" he said next, leading into "99 Problems."
Toward the end of the concert, which was broadcast live on Fuse, Jay performed "Hard Knock Life" and had a moment of silence after. The chorus to BP3's "Forever Young" was then played, while pictures of some of the victims of 9/11 scrolled up the screen on the stage.
"Make some noise for everybody who lost their life, so we could live ours," Jay commanded.
The last song was "Encore," with Diddy and Kanye coming back out.
"I done seen a lot of sh-- in my life," Diddy said. "But I never seen what happened here tonight. Make some noise for Jay-Z."
Watch the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards Preshow this Sunday, September 13, at 8 p.m. ET, followed by the big event, live at 9 p.m. Check out our interactive map of New York to see how the city is celebrating the VMAs all week long, and stay tuned for party coverage, concert reports, behind-the-scenes updates and more.