The build-up to Jay-Z actually coming onstage on Friday night was as delicious as it was excruciating. This was the first night of the star’s eight-show run, which marked the official opening of the Barclays Center. As far as the rapper and mogul’s myriad successes go, Friday night was a peak among peaks: as we noted in our preview, Brooklyn boy Shawn Carter is now part-owner of the Nets basketball team, whose new home ground is the Barclays Center; the team’s move to Brooklyn means that the borough has a major-league sports team for the first time since 1957.
In the countdown to Jay’s actual arrival, a video montage was beamed onto a sleek slope of reflective panels on the stage, chronicling Brooklyn’s evolution from tiny Dutch enclave (called Breuckelen) to densely populated cultural mega-hub; the images sped up, the crowd roared as the Notorius B.I.G.’s face briefly beamed down—and then it was time. Light streamed through a doorway in the middle of the stage, Hove’s silhouette was visible at the end of a tunnel, and 19,000 fans screamed.
Tonight would be a homecoming show to end all homecoming shows, at which Jay-Z was not merely paying tribute to Brooklyn—he was Brooklyn, wearing a Nets shirt ("Brooklyn" on the front, "Carter" on the back), Nets cap and great coils of gold chain around his neck. The show kicked off with “Where I’m From” and “Brooklyn Go Hard,” Jay-Z accompanied by a band which included two drummers hitting the hell out of their kits in alcoves at the top of the gleaming panels.
“I’ve been on many stages all around the world,” said Jay-Z. “Nothin’ feels like tonight, Brooklyn, I swear to God.” He added: “This is the house that Brooklyn built. Welcome to my house!”
What was striking about the show, beyond the hysteria and joy, was how stripped down it was. This was Jay’s show, Jay’s homage to Brooklyn—not a glittery celebfest. While it was widely expected that some of the rapper’s coterie of starry friends might join him on opening night, there was nary a guest spot until the end of the night; Jay performed “Run this Town” and “Empire State of Mind” alone. Only during the encore did Jay welcome a buddy onstage—veteran BK rapper Big Daddy Kane, resplendent in a white suit. Kane performed three hits with his old backup dancers (also in white); he even performed splits at the end, a happy glimpse of belly poking out from under his jacket.
The hits came, one after another (“On to the Next One,” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” “Jigga My Nigga,” “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”), and pleasingly, Jay-Z didn’t seem to acclimate to the magnitude of the event over the course of its two hours: “You don’t mind if I take my time,” he said. “I’m really overwhelmed at the moment.”
By the end of the show, he was calling out to members of the audience (including one man who apparently flashed his chest in excitement) and expressing his deep humility. Everyone in the stadium is capable of genius, he said, “I’m no different to anyone here tonight.”
For all the attack and snarl of cuts like “Murda Murda,” this was an understandably sentimental celebration, closing with the goopy “Young Forever.” But don’t let that fool you into thinking that Jay-Z’s gone soft. “Get home safe,” he said at the show’s end, “’Cause you know they’re waiting for us to fuck up.”
"Where I'm From"
"Brooklyn Go Hard"
"Kick in the Door"/"Juicy" (tribute to Biggie)
"U Don't Know"
"Run This Town"
"New York State of Mind"
"On to the Next One"
"Dirt Off Your Shoulder"
"I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)"
"Can I Live?"
"Public Service Announcement"
"Jigga My Nigga"
"Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator ’99)"
"Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)"
"Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)"
"What More Can I Say?"
"Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up)"
"Ain't No Half Steppin’" (Big Daddy Kane)
"Set It Off" (Big Daddy Kane)
"Warm It Up Kane" (Big Daddy Kane)
"Money Ain't a Thing"
"Money, Cash, Hoes"