It is 2015. If you haven’t seen Jay Z perform in some kind of live setting yet, you either don’t enjoy music in live settings, or you are not an actual living being.
Because Jay Z tours hard. And he tours big.
No other rapper has done as many large event shows as Jay Z — from festivals like Coachella and Made In America, to stadium tours (like last year’s “On the Run Tour” with wife Beyonce).
This past weekend in NYC, Jay did a pair of shows. It was the smallest set of shows he’s done in ages, and it was set up like that by design.
Titled “B-Sides,” the nights formed a gimmicky set of concerts where Jay would perform all the classics which, for whatever reason, he never performs. Basically it was a concert for the hardcore fans. More specifically, it was a concert for the hardcore fans who downloaded Jay’s new streaming service, TIDAL. (Tickets for the event weren’t sold. TIDAL users had to make Jay Z playlists for a chance to win them.)
So, as a pretty big Jay Z fan who is pretty fluent in Jay Z music, I felt like I was among real fans — and fam — on Sunday night, as Jay Z giddily came out performing “Dynasty (Intro)” on the second evening of shows. And it was pretty cool to just stand there and stan out with Beyonce — who couldn’t stop smiling — Carmelo Anthony and La La, Jadakiss and 3,000 TIDAL subscribers, 2,000 of whom downloaded the free 30-day trial to make their playlist.
What a daunting task it must have been to choose the songs for this concert. Pick a Jay era and you’ll find a number of forgotten classics. Hell, even Jay’s rough patch in 2006 gave us gems like “The Prelude” and the “Go Crazy (Remix).”
l will say this: he chose the B-sides he was supposed to choose. So that included a lot of In My Lifetime and Vol. 3 stuff that gets untouched (street records like “Streets is Watching” and “So Ghetto”). And that included songs from the smaller in scale American Gangsta – tracks like “Sweet” and “Party Life” that don’t work in an arena or stadium setting.
As a fan, there were two details I particularly enjoyed: one, Jay performed a number of mid-2000s mixtape classics, like the “Grammy Family (Freestyle)” and the “Pump it Up (Freestyle).” Those were bars that I thought were long forgotten by the man. And two, the band backing up Jay all night, the always excellent 1500 or Nothin’, would switch up the beat at times, sending nods to fans who listened closely over the years. (Example: During “D’Evils,” they played Snoop Dogg’s “Murder was the Case,” and during “A Million and One Questions” the band played Pusha T’s “Numbers on the Board.”
The two moments that got the most press were the new freestyle, where he talked up his streaming service — buy TIDAL! — while sending shots at Spotify and YouTube, and the guests who appeared, which included Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, Freeway, and Jay Electronica. (Fun fact: Beyonce really loves “Exhibit C.”)
The show closed with a song Jay actually performs a lot, “Public Service Announcement.” During his performance, Jay Electronica, who was just on stage, ran next to me and started wilding out, jumping up and down, while smoking two blunts at the same time. He bumped me.
All I thought at that moment was “Wow, I can’t wait until Jay turns this into a tour.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty