- Air Canada Centre
- On Saturday night in Toronto
Jay-Z, famous for saying "I'm not a businessman; I'm a business, man!" is all about the money line.
"I went from pauper to president cause every deal I ever made set the precedent." That was him toward the end of So Ambitious, a new track that also features Pharrell Williams singing "If you can believe it, then you can conceive it."
In front of a sold-out audience at the Air Canada Centre on Halloween night, Jay-Z wanted everyone to know that, president trumps king. With the September release of his 11th No. 1 album, The Blueprint 3, Jay-Z has beat out Elvis Presley as the only solo artist to hold that record. "Elvis has officially left the building."
Meanwhile Jay-Z's entrance, from a trap door beneath the stage wearing a hockey mask à la Jason of Friday the 13th, proved he really is a master at double-entendre (or someone rummaged through the Maple Leafs' dressing room).
The artist, who turns 40 next month, kicked off the 90-minute set with the current chart-topper Run This Town; in some ways, this seemed odd given that he shares the song with Rihanna and Kanye West, neither of whom appeared live.
But the crowd didn't seem to care. In the brief pauses between songs, fans devoutly, deafeningly and repeatedly chanted "Hova!" his alias, as in J-Hova, as in Jehovah, as in "saviour of rap."
At times, he came across as a motivational speaker of sorts. "If you have so much ambition, you will be successful," he repeated throughout the show, offering his trajectory from the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn to the ACC as living proof.
Jay-Z, née Shawn Carter, is one of the few hip-hop artists who can hold a stage solo, sans dancers or theatrics (Memphis Bleek, J. Cole, Toronto's overnight sensation Drake and Brigit Kelly all made cameos). He's more a big band kinda guy; his 11-member team included three people divided between horns and woodwinds and two on percussion. The minimal but effective backdrop consisted of 15 video screens and projected images of New York and the Toronto audience alike. There were no outfit changes, only all black everything (his uniform of choice) iced with two diamond chain necklaces and a mother of a watch.
As Jay-Z bounced between greatest hits ( 99 Problems) and fresh singles ( On to the Next One), there was no theme stronger than his desire to make - and subsequently spend - money. But the references to drugs, hustling and women have mellowed over time. Marrying Beyoncé can do that to a man.
Speaking of the former single lady, Jay-Z teased the crowd when the band started playing the intro to Dangerously in Love. Could she be waiting in the wings? He stopped. Then started again. Everyone held their breath. It turned out to be one big tease.
Only in the concert's final 10 minutes did Jay-Z remove his sunglasses to get a good look at his audience. The gesture, as well-meaning as it was, took on the feel of Romper Room as he singled out people for their costumes. "Toronto has a lot of pretty girls," he noted. Among them, which came as a surprise to many, was Rhea, the newest member of N.E.R.D. who opened for Hova (as did J.Cole and Wale). The Ajax, Ont. chanteuse who channels Gwen Stefani with a Betty Paige streak commanded quite a presence. Indeed, despite the presidential overtures, Jay-Z is not selfish about fame. As he made clear with one of his most soulful tracks of the night, Everyday A Star is Born. And when he told the audience to "clap for 'em," they dutifully obliged.