“I’m feeling this is going to be a legendary night, here tonight.” Aw shucks, Jay Z, I bet you say that to all the arenas, and Beyoncé too.
Of course, this is the Run This Town rapper and the mogul with the mostest, a minor crack-dealing magnate turned major hip-hop lord. He feels like Cassius Clay, some 12,000 were told, which is to say that he aims to be nothing less than great, which is to indicate an empire state of mind, famous in song and creed. We heard U Don’t Know, but of course we do: It is the legend of Jay Z.
The stage he took was filled with bare scaffolding – always building something, this backward leather baseball-cap guy. His beefy-snakey, rocking-grooving four-piece band included a familiar collaborator: “The legendary Timberland, in the house,” lavished Jay Z. Legend? No, too much hype – not enough room for more than one legend tonight.
Jay Z had shared the Grammy stage on Sunday with his Bootylicious queen, on a smutty version of her Drunk in Love, a declaration of the power couple’s appetites in the bedroom (and in the foyer, and in the bathtub – something about a surfboard).
The last time Toronto saw the former Shawn Carter in the flesh was at Rogers Centre this past July, on the stage-sharing Legends of the Summer stadium escapade with Justin Timberlake. Before that there was the Watch the Throne tour (co-headlined by no less than Kanye West), which settled into ACC for a pair of shows in late 2011.
Now? Just Jay Z, the iconic brand and myth-making man, rolling out past hits and material from his latest album, the so-so Magna Carter Holy Grail. Now 44 years old, the father of Blue Ivy paced himself, offering up new ones Holy Grail and Picasso Baby, while keeping up the energy with favourites 99 Problems and Dead Presidents. “I’m still spending money from ‘88,” he claimed, which doesn’t say much for trickle-down economics but does attest to his own economy. That’s not really true – he spends freely, on gold sippy cups and such – but Jay Z goes easy enough to take a break after only 40 minutes or so, leaving the stage to a DJ-ing Timbaland, while he went off for a makeover in his bling and ball-cap plan.
Jay Z came back to a crowd in thrall to him. “Everybody put your diamonds in the air,” he requested. Dutifully and gleefully the audience complied, forming their hands in the geometric-jewel shape. Later, on the ominous, minimalist Clique, Jay Z rhymed about being the top dog – “least that what my neck say, least that what my cheques say.”
An encore was dragged down by a 20-minute dialogue with the audience. Jay Z, like Drake did at the same arena during his recent concert there, laboriously and generously pointed out the fans, signs and outfits that appealed to him (which invariably were the ones that saluted him). Sweetness, then, with the swagger.
The benevolent baron penned autographs (we could tell from the giant video screens) with a big looping signature – a sign of one’s sense of high status.
After the hits Empire State of Mind, Izzo (H.O.V.A.) and Hard Knock Life, the show closed with Young Forever, in which the Brooklynite audaciously placed his own rags-to-riches aspirations alongside Ms who were bigger even than Mahovlich, those being Mandela, Malcolm X and MLK. As for Jay Z, his dream has been fulfilled. And if he has 99 problems, clearly ambition, guile and poise are not among them.