A Night With The Ruler
By: Connor Lenahan
When you start a show by stating “I will not lose ever, fucker,” you know you’re in for something special. There’s a difference between me saying it and Jay Z saying it. When I say it I’m simply being cocky and vulgar. When Jay Z says it you believe him. You also believe Jay when he claims “I sell ice in the winter, I sell fire in hell, I am a hustler baby I sell water to a well.” He’s scorched the Earth in front of him on the first song of the evening.
So yeah, you could say I really liked Jay Z last night. He opened the show with the aforementioned “U Don’t Know” and continued to pull out hit after hit for a truly special show. There’s an aura around Jay Z that doesn’t exist with other rappers. I saw Action Bronson two nights ago and the crowd views him as an everyman. He’s a former chef turned rapper. He’s relatable. When I saw Drake in October it was clear that he was a defining artist to my generation. When there isn’t a single bare seat in the house at the TD Garden you know you’ve made it. Drake is a voice for a legion of people. Kanye West’s show was less of a concert than a production. It was two hours long but it was so much more than a simple concert. It was art. Kanye is something different than a musician, but it’s hard to perfectly capture his presence.
Jay Z though? He’s an almost mythological creature. He’s a living legend. Everyone in the arena knows he’s the best rapper in history, and Jay stated it a few times. He’s a king, and his show is a peak at his throne and his legacy. It’s amazing.
Jay played a large part of his 2013 album Magna Carta Holy Grail last night and it translates well to a live show. I found the album as a whole to be a disappointment but individual songs like “Holy Grail,” “Picasso Baby,” “Tom Ford,” and “Fuckwitmeyouknowigotit” were individually enjoyable. He played all four last night thankfully. For a tour based around Magna Carta the song selection was on point.
People weren’t really going to this show for “Beach is Better” (which was the only point during the night where I completely checked out), but for “99 Problems.” There are people (Read: Me) who have been waiting their entire lives to hear Jay yell “If you havin’ girl problems I feel bad for you son,” only to scream along “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one.” Jay is far from dumb, so the lion’s share of the set is devoted to classics.
There are displays of songs designed to be stadium anthems, “Onto The Next One,” and lyrical masterpieces, “Dead Presidents II,” riddled within the first half of the show. Jay gets the party started from the second he steps on stage. The night was filled with multiple moments during songs that have become iconic. For example, the buildup to the beautifully simple chorus of “Can I Live” was one of my personal highlights. It may have been hard to follow his flow if you had never heard the song before, which is understandable as 1996 Jay wasn’t thinking about playing to 20,000 people when he was writing sharp lines for the track, but the crowd asking the three-word title question in unison was powerful.
There were solo performances of the two biggest songs off of Watch The Throne, “No Church in the Wild” and “N—-s in Paris.” Even without Kanye the songs are still amazing. There were songs with some of the best beats in history in “Big Pimpin’” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” Not a single person was standing still during either of those songs. It’s impossible. You’ve got to get down to the ultimate summer party song “Big Pimpin’” and dust your clothes to the menace that is “Dirt Off You Shoulder.”
Then we have to talk about “Public Service Announcement.” “PSA” was chosen by Rembert Browne (correctly) as the greatest Jay Z song of all time in 2011. This isn’t even technically a song; it’s an interlude following “99 Problems” on The Black Album. This wasn’t supposed to become a masterpiece, but here we are. The second the song began I knew the clock was ticking until the greatest drop in music history. For when Jay starts “Allow me to introduce myself my name is,” there is no other option to yell “HOVVVV” as loud as humanly possible. Then Jay rips into the two dirtiest verses in history. This is incredible. It was a life highlight. There were feels felt during this song that can only be expressed through giggling and tears. I knew this would happen. I wasn’t ready. I’m not worthy. “PSA” is perfection.
Jay even changed my opinion on one of his bigger songs last night. “Run This Town” became a sports staple a few years ago and is a relatively obvious choice for stadium music. It didn’t take much for me to get sick of the song. It wasn’t a Jay Z song in the same way that “Welcome to the Jungle” isn’t a Guns ‘n’ Roses song, it’s a part of our culture really. Then I heard it live and I pulled a 180. I’m entirely sold on “Run This Town.” It’s a rhetorical question. Rihanna asks “who’s gonna run this town tonight” with the full knowledge that Jay is and always will be in control. It’s a statement of fact. It’s one of the more powerful live song’s I’ve ever heard. Along with “Power” by Kanye West it’s the closest I’ve ever heard to a military grade call to action. It entirely persuades you to throw up the diamond and bow to the king Hova. An action I completed during almost every song last night.
When the show heads home with “Encore,” which is almost unfair to play live because it’s engineered (by Kanye no less) to be the ultimate Jay anthem, “Izzo,” “Hard Knock Life,” and “Young Forever” it’s really a victory lap for Jay. He spent the entire evening cementing his number one status. Now he’s just polishing the statue on said spot.
The only omission from the evening was “Empire State of Mind,” a choice that confused my friend Montana and I, as it’s the biggest hit Jay has ever had. The conclusion we came to is that Jay skipped the New York anthem based on locale. He’s not going to enter enemy territory and force Red Sox fans to join along to the song that defined the 2009 World Series victory for the Yankees. If this is all I was missing from Jay I’m okay with that, because I know this won’t be the last time I occupy the same room as Shawn Carter.
Last night was incredible. I could not have asked for a better show from Jay. If it’s at all possible I left as a bigger fan of all things Hov. And I’m entirely okay with that.
Connor Lenahan (@ConnorLenahan) is the founder and editor-in-chief of Connorlenahan.com. He is a freshman at Boston University, majoring in journalism. He can be emailed at email@example.com