Posted by Robert
Rap News Network
11/28/2003 11:52:10 PM
Tags and topics realted to this article include Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliott.
Ticketholders for Jay-Z's sold-out, one-night-only benefit show at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night knew only that they'd hear and see the current king of New York hip-hop. What they got was overwhelming proof of the inadequacy of that title. Like a defendant pleading his own case, Jay-Z demonstrated that he reigns not just regionally, not just rap, but as one of the great pop stars of our time. He coordinated a parade of celebrity surprise witnesses to help testify -- R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, Beyonce, Missy Elliott and Pharrell Williams, among others -- and left no room for reasonable doubt.
The show was part of series of events timed with the release of Jay-Z's "The Black Album," which he claims will be his last. The Brooklyn-born rapper, who turns 33 this week, says he's retiring from rap performance to focus on ventures in film, clothing, sports and publishing (his autobiography, "The Black Book," hits shelves next spring) as well as music. Though never ashamed to admit that his greatest passion is for business, Jay-Z has lately emphasized a desire for recognition as a musical innovator and boundary-breaker. His retirement party was choreographed to spin the stuff of legend from a seven-year string of hits.
It started inauspiciously, with a sports metaphor gone awry. The plan was to "retire his number" -- that is, raise a Jay-Z basketball jersey to the Garden's rafters. But the spot-lit shirt was laughably small compared with the monuments to Knicks heroes it was supposedly joining. A great idea, its execution played like a hip-hop version of the Stonehenge scene in "Spinal Tap."
Jay-Z had more brilliant plans in store, though, and as soon as he took the stage, things started to run smoothly. He opened with "Black Album" lead single "What More Can I Say?" performing as no other rap star does: alone. Uncannily magnetic and big-voiced, he needs no sidekick, stage-set, costume or fancy moves.
After a quick medley featuring "Jigga My N*gga," a curtain went up and revealed a band, led by drummer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of the Roots -- who backed Jay-Z on his 2001 "Unplugged" MTV special and album. They immediately launched "Izzo (H.O.V.A.), sounding well-oiled and rehearsed. The band stayed on for 1998's "Can I Get a ..."
The next special guests were Voletta Wallace and Afeni Shakur, mothers of slain rappers 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G. They came on stage during an unusually emotional tribute to the fallen stars -- a staple of hip-hop shows. Jay-Z led the audience in frenzied rap-a-longs of 2Pac and Biggie songs, harnessing the form's incantational power. He presented the mothers with oversized checks for the charities they established in their sons' names. (The primary beneficiaries of Tuesday's show were the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and the Shawn Carter Scholarship Fund.)
Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella Records protegés, also well-rehearsed, joined him for a set including "Roc the Mic," "Can't Stop Won't Stop" and "U Don't Know (remix)." Missy Elliott came out to deliver her part of "Is That Your Chick?"
Then came Beyoncé, who joined her boyfriend for their smash duet "Crazy in Love." Jay-Z yielded the stage to his glamorous sweetheart, who, along with five high-heeled dancers, performed a nicely choreographed mini-set of her own material.
Next, the band returned for a set of Jay-Z oldies. Now in a pin-striped gangster suit, Jay-Z brought on Foxy Brown for "Ain't No *****," his first hit. Mary J. Blige sang on "Can't Knock the Hustle," also from 1996, and stayed on for a mini-set of her own.
Jay-Z returned with Pharrell Williams, co-producer and chorus-singer of Jay-Z's current hit "Change Clothes," as well as his most electrifying single, 2000's "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It to Me)." The third song in the Pharrell set, "Frontin'," was marred by problems with his mic.
The star of the show appeared relaxed and effortlessly in cont
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