The 1st time I saw Jay-Z was on the Hard Knock Life Tour in 1999. I was more interested in seeing DMX, Method Man & Redman that night. Jay was an OK performer at that time, and sold himself more on his pop hits than his more substantive rhymes. Next to 3 of the best, most high-energy performers hiphop has ever seen, he came off subdued and slightly nervous. I wouldn’t have counted myself as a fan of Jay’s at that time. Had never sat through a full Jay-Z album without skipping a song. Things would change.
By the 2nd time, the Blueprint 3 Tour in 2009, I had gained a higher level of respect and appreciation for Jay. He had battled Nas and survived, The Blueprint and The Black Album had solidified his place among the greats, and his stage presence was on a whole other plane. His command of the audience had gone from that of a scared rookie in ’99 to a seasoned vet. I couldn’t even tell you who the opening acts were. I went to this show strictly for Jay.
I didn’t go to the Watch The Throne Tour in 2011. I mention it here because I strongly considered it, chose not to, and have since heard from dozens of people that it’s the best concert they ever went to. I had good reasons for skipping it, but that’s a decision I’d take a do-over on in hindsight.
The 3rd time, the Magna Carter World Tour of 2014, felt like watching a legend that was past his time. The album he was promoting is one of his worst. I remember the song “Tom Ford” as a lowlight of the show. But he had classics he could go to, and was still smooth and confident onstage. The show accurately represented the mixed bag of the position Jay was in. Was he about to fade away from relevance like Hard Knock Life Tour mates DMX, Meth and Redman? Or would he come back strong?
The 4th time was on 4:44 Tour this summer. The strong comeback is on. His 14th #1 album (2nd only to the Beatles) includes a classic Jay-Z show song in “Bam”, among other hits. The show was creative, used his extensive catalog well, and there were no lowlights. My favourite parts were a slowed down performance of “D’Evils” and the roof-raising “PSA”. There was a time when Jay was criticized for being one-dimensional and shallow. Those criticisms no longer apply.