Brooklyn is home to many influential individuals, but there is no contemporary mogul born and raised in the New York borough that is quite as influential as Shawn Carter. If that name doesn’t sound familiar, perhaps his stage name will better describe him: Jay-Z. For the nights of Nov. 26 and Nov. 27, the Barclays Center became a family gathering for the homecoming of Jay-Z as he continues on his “4:44” World Tour.
In early June of 2017, mysterious peach colored billboards with only “4:44” plastered the likes of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Paris. Come June 30, 2017, everything made sense after Jay-Z dropped his 13th studio album, “4:44,” on his music streaming service Tidal. The standard edition came complete with 10 tracks and 36 minutes of refined rap flows and vulnerable topics, making Jay-Z’s 13th album one of his most memorable.
From confessing his marital mistakes to exposing the underlying atrocities of the music industry and addressing the socio-political landscape of the black community in the United States, the album remained potent and clever from start to finish. Several weeks later, the campaign for this musical era of Jay-Z rolled out a deluxe edition complete with three more songs and the initiation of the album’s visual projects. All in all, Jay-Z definitely wanted to make this musical project to be a phenomenon, and the rap legend does it quite elegantly with thoughtful music and securing his title as one of rap’s most elusive and intriguing artists.
The excellent project naturally built hype for its eponymous tour. Before the beloved Jay-Z stepped out on the circular stage centered in the middle of the arena, one of his favorite up-and-coming rappers, Vic Mensa, got the audience warmed up. Mensa has been building up his name for a couple years now and recently dropped his first studio album, “The Autobiography.” The young and high-energy artist circled the stage while performing songs of his like “Rollin’ Like A Stoner” and “Homewrecker” that showed the diverse messages of his music from care-free, stadium-oriented ragers to slowed-down rap ballads. After a short and fiery opening set, Mensa reminded the crowd that the main show had still yet to take place.
The arena went pitch black, and eight massive screens hanging above center stage hum to life with photos of Jay-Z catching flames. As the man everyone came for emerged from the spotlight, his two-hour set began. Throughout the show, Jay-Z balanced the old with the new, the rampant with the peaceful, by bringing in classics from “The Black Album” and “Reasonable Doubt” to the high-intensity beats of “Watch the Throne” and his most current picks from “4:44”. Due to his reputation for dominating America’s radio waves, his show was filled with hip-hop classics such as “99 Problems” and “Run This Town.”
Despite the high energy of Jay-Z’s world-renowned beats and hooks, his most notable moments came from his emotional, mellow tracks where he would take center stage with only a mic stand and his stories. His performances of songs such as the title track of his latest album “4:44,” the hopeful track “Smile,” and the closing song of “Numb/Encore” in honor of the late Chester Bennington were emotionally dense and powerful due to Jay-Z’s ability to succumb to vulnerability in the public eye. Arguably, the most sentimental moments came from the songs where Jay-Z praised New York City while performing in his home borough of Brooklyn, especially during his euphoric performance of “Empire State of Mind” a mere three miles from the Empire State Building. After Jay-Z left the stage and the arena lighting came on, the audience left Barclays with grins on their faces and a new memory in their minds all due to Jay-Z’s masterful wisdom of commanding the stage while reaching out to his audience through his authenticity and artistry.
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