Without a doubt, this man is one the biggest name in hip hop and one of the biggest in music today. A career spanning almost 20 years, 12 albums, numerous collaborations, billions of dollars in net worth, gets to touch Beyonce in the pants – he’s kind of a big deal. But how does all the musical and lifestyle hype translate to the main stage?
I expected dozens of hotpant twerking backing dancers, gold plated mics, fur coats, fireworks, all kinds of elaborate side show shit. I got none of that. What I watched was essentially what I’m going to call ‘musical athleticism’ – the sound version of getting trackside tickets to watching Usain Bolt run the 100m.
For an arena gig it was pretty stripped down. Two screens ran weird montage of army apocalypse style videos. Watching Timbaland and the three additional musicians on stage was like staring into Mission Control at NASA; they were constantly turning knobs, tuning strings, mixing tracks and generally working up a concentration sweat. Aside from these guys set back from the front of the stage, Jay was alone. Simply dressed in casual black, the only thing from looking at him that gave away the gangsta was a giant gold chain hanging round his neck. We can assume it was not chocolate. And the audience hung on to his every word.
There were 2 sections to the show. The first half involved him throwing down some Magna Carta tracks and a mix of his older songs. There seemed to be no real flow, and although the tracks sounded rich and well mixed, stylistically he was jumping around. It all made sense though toward the end of the first half; during a dirtier track from first album Reasonable Doubt Jay shouted for Timbaland to cut, ‘it’s too hip hop for them’. Not offensively, but from then on Jay knew the crowd were going to give him more from the more well known songs.
Alone on stage, strutting back and forth, no theatrics and constantly rapping – constantly, he did not stop throughout the whole set. And he absolutely did not miss a beat, drop a word, anything. He was more articulate than a Radio 4 programme, and just watching and feeding off the aura, far more entertaining. Highlights for me were tracks off 2003’s The Black Album, they’re harder, the rock influence clearly felt. 99 Problems saw the bobbing crowd get a little more jumpy, with Jay encouraging a circle pit. Coming back out for the second section to Public Service Announcement was glorious. From the gospel style organ to the dirty bass, and his completely self assured delivery, I loved it.
My personal tastes meant that I did want him to get a bit dirtier and not play for what one security guard described as ‘a bollock load of Tarquin’s in there mate’. But I respect that he acknowledged it. A musical athlete at the top of his game performing a stripped down set where he’s the only one there. Yup, he’s pretty bad ass.