I admit, before last Saturday I really didn't have an opinion either way of the HOV. I was a fan of his hits back in the late 90s and early 2000s, but really haven't followed his albums, performances, or activities otherwise. Back in 2004 Jay-Z did an MTV collaboration with Linkin Park...but I believe that album purchase was more about Linkin Park than Jay.
But I digress.
After his performance in Toronto on Saturday, October 31, 2009 for the Blueprint 3 tour, I walked away with a newfound respect and appreciation of this man. He was great!
The energy in the Air Canada Centre was crazy. I have seen most of my favourites perform live, and can still safely say that next to Janet Jackson (2001), this show had the most vibes, the crowd showed the most love, and actually had me on my feet from beginning to end. Even from the depths of the 300 section.
The opening acts Wale, N.E.R.D. with wonderful Pharell, even got a good response from the crowd: that's how I knew it was going to be a special night. The ACC was a true representation of Toronto with attendees of all races, all ages, and all excited to take part in the event. Everyone was hype.
When Jay-Z came on stage, I couldn't help but feel like I was about to witness something great. Again, I don't know his lyrics. I didn't even buy a copy of Blueprint 3 (or download it...yet) but I knew that there had to be a reason 20,000 people were jamming consistently, hands raised, for over two hours straight.
Excuse my faraway footage...the details aren't clear, but the feeling is still there :)
Jay-Z opening - "Run This Town":
Even with the tracks from the new album played, he made sure to mix in the classics, giving us the full repetoire of his legacy.
Jay-Z performs "Empire State of Mind":
In one of the most anticipated moments of the night, Toronto's own Drake came out to bless the stage with a performance of "Successful." I found the crowd almost silent at this point, taking in each lyric, and the pride was almost tangible.
Towards the end of the night, Jay-Z took a minute to thank the fans, and I think this is the moment that got me. I was amazed how incredibly arrogant...yet extremely humble he could be. He took off his shades and spoke to the people of Toronto with genuine gratitude. You could hear it in his voice, you could see it on his face: he was thankful to be who he was, and where he was.
He took another 10 minutes with the house lights on, shouting out the fans, pointing people out by clothing and costume (it was Halloween night, after all) and giving them the spotlight on the jumbotron. This personal touch, and the time he took to acknowledge his supporters also added to the night's experience.
It was warming to see him also big up Toronto-turned-international rapper Kardinal Offishall in the front row; the crowd showed him the utmost love through applause and cheers.
And just when you thought the concert was over, I think another wave of energy hit Jay because he extended the show past 11pm (which rarely happens at the ACC), had the lights back down, and gave the audience another 30 minutes of his talent.
I am addicted to live shows, admittedly. The noise, the crowds, the acoustics, and the physical energy. So needless to say when he closed with "Young Forever" from the Blueprint 3 with electric blue lighting on stage and near blackness otherwise, I found this to be the defining moment of the night. Thousands of lighters immediately sparked around the venue, men and women, teenage and grown, began to sing along, and you could just feel like you had participated in something great.
These are the musical moments that I live for.
In closing, Jay-Z gave the mandatory "follow your dreams" speech that most entertainers share when on stage. But the great thing about it is that when you see someone like him perform, and feel what can be created with passion, talent, and support, you can't help but naturally be inspired.
Whether in your 9-5, in your hobbies, or in your most ambitious goals and dreams, seeing an artist come from less than favourable conditions, and go against common odds to still achieve their highest fantasies...to me that is worth the cost of a ticket.
This is why concerts remain high on my priority list of spending. The $30-$100 I knock out for the ticket is worth volumes more to me when it comes to motivation, inspiration, and just appreciation of music and life in general.
Yes, it was just a rap concert, but I'm pretty sure there are 19,999 other fans in Toronto who like me, are still on that Jay-Z high right now, wishing it was 9:45pm on Saturday, and we could experience it all over again.
(Borrowed footage via YouTube user forzaferrarif1fan)
The "Urban Toronto Tales" novel collection by Stacey Marie Robinson: books are available online @ http:///www.staceymarierobinson.com. "Stories about the life YOU live."