Ranked as one of the most successful rappers of all time, you’d be hard pushed to have not heard of Shawn Corey Carter, AKA Jay-Z, after his countless years of success within the hip hop industry. Becoming a record producer and entrepreneur has lead Jay-Z to become one of the most financially successful hip-hop artists in America, yet his recent tour could replicate that of a start-up musician.
Jay-Z’s performance at the O2 screamed simplicity and humbleness, with him arriving at his set by taking the not-so-glamorous tube. Hitting the stage at the O2 Arena for the last leg of his Magna Carter Holy Grail tour within the UK before heading over to mainland Europe, Jay-Z strolled onto the stage (a little later than expected) to greet some 20,000 screaming fans whilst performing the intro to Higher. The stage was set simply, with a minimalistic white floor and two large screens placed either side showing CCTV images of the show. “Big Pimpin’” saw the screens flair up with images of the armless Venus de Milo, lighting up the arena and showing off Jay-Z’s cultural tastes.
Rumours of Timbaland supporting seemed to be just chitchat, until Jay-Z introduced the big-time producer, who stood high up on decks alongside Jay-Z’s band, whilst Chris Martin still remained to be unseen. Wearing a suave black t-shirt/jeans combo complimented with a chunky chain and flat cap, HOV turned the sombre atmosphere buzzing in an instant. Blending a combination of new tracks and old classics, the set list jumped from “On to the Next One” to new hit “Holy Grail,” keeping the crowd on their toes.
His new tracks received the same standard of reception as his classics, with his Magna Cater Holy Grail album being Jay-Z’s first official number one album in the UK. The crazy beats, skits and raps kept the crowd on their feet throwing their diamond shapes in the air. Starting up “N****s in Paris,” Jay-Z seemed less enthused than what you would expect from such a big hit, until he halted the music and demanded for circles to appear in the standing section of the arena. The track started up again as the circles turned into mini mosh pits before the crowd appeared to again take on the shape of a can of wriggling worms, jumping in unison to the beat.
An intermission broke out which saw Timbaland take on centre stage for ten minutes of looping and DJing. With treats including the likes of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” and music from the producer’s new album, the set somewhat tamed the crowd, or simply lowered the mood. Whilst some seemed to thrive on the opportunity of catching a glimpse of the DJ in action, others seemed disappointed that time was being spent listening to spun tracks; I was one of the latter.
After returning to the stage to spin out a few gems including “Clique” and “Run This Town,” Jay-Z re-returned to rap “Encore” before closing the night off with individual thanks and messages to fans in the crowd. People were selected at random and complimented on their t-shirts, enthusiasm and posters. Whilst one girl was lucky enough to have her resume handed to the rapper on stage in the hope of employment by Rockafella (the letter was too long and was shortly pushed aside as Jay-Z continued to praise the fans). The final song chosen to bid the crowd good night was “Young Forever;” one that proved to be a controversial choice to the crowd expecting more of an iconic smash hit to finish things with a bang.
The 43 year-old performed as well as he did ten years ago, whilst ensuring the crowd that his self-confidence was no reflection on how honoured and modest he feels each time he walks out on the stage.