Jay Z at The NIA, Birmingham, UK – 8th October 2013

Posted by Bianca on Tuesday Oct 8, 2013 Under Hip Hop/Rap

Gig Review by James Capper with Photography by Bianca Barrett

Jay Z

If you could go back to the early 80s when Brooklyn’s Finest Shawn Carter was starting out in the newly evolving ‘rap game’ and tell him that by 2013 he would be one of the most financially successful hip hop artists, as well as selling close to 50 million albums worldwide, 17 Grammys, a successful entrepreneur, official NBA scout, CEO of record labels and clothing companies and not to mention he gets to wake up next to Beyoncé most mornings, he would of probably told you it was never beyond reasonable doubt. It was all part of his plans.

Fast forward to the 8th October 2013 where he knows all this is true, but still graciously courts all this with a nostalgic mature head on his shoulders. Jay Z has a packed out area in Birmingham, 12,700 to be precise and he doesn’t look remotely phased by it.

Jay Z

Like a good friend Jay Z didn’t want to let down the 12000 plus friends he had an appointment with in Birmingham tonight and was duly on time at 9pm to a reception that was hip hop’s very own take on ‘Beatlemania’. It was as if the audience were meeting their maker who was about to recite his teachings to the backdrop of hip hop music. From the off the NIA was literally bouncing in time with the beats meticulously played by his which comprised of a live drummer, bass guitarist, DJ and the one and only Timbaland providing the hooks. Jay Z commanded the stage with confidence and power and worked the crowd from left to right, to right down the middle. You had just about caught your breath, when another wave of euphoria hit you.

Jay Z

Appearing dressed as usual in all black, suspenders draped off his waist and his Brooklyn cap tipped forward and the obligatory ‘bling’ draped round his neck. With a spotlight on him at all times, he delivered his verses perfectly showing us that he is a true professional and master of his trade. He made it look effortless.

Jay Z

With Magna Carter having only been released 3 months prior to this tour, it seems fans have dutifully learned every single lyric. Jigga-man lovingly embraced this, allowing his disciples to holla the words right back at him, a refreshing touch as most hip hop artists are armed with hype men completing these parts. Magna Carter as an album is much more commercially aware than Jay Z’s previous releases; the beats are so on trend with music at the moment, so for the nostalgic fans he also needed to deliver.

Jay Z

The true professional that he is, it was never in doubt that he would play the classics from a career that spans over 17 years. ’99 Problems’ got everybody into the melee. The party had officially gone up a gear. It’s easy for artists to shun their early work, usually material that they believe is dated and immature in comparison to their more recent ‘accomplished’ work, but not with Jay Z. He even made a point of thanking the people that had been “rockin’ with me form the start”. When the DJ sampled ‘Dead Presidents’ from his debut ‘Reasonable Doubt’ album, he had well and truly got the audience in the palm of his hand, before the music cuts and he delivers the ending verse solely a cappella. This was a common feature throughout the show, the lights would fade out, hiding his band, leaving Jay Z reciting his words to a captivated audience. ‘Dirt off your shoulder’ and ‘Public service announcement’ had the place literally bouncing, I’m sure the arena was rocked off its foundations a little after tonight. The bass ripped through your rib cage and made you feel like it was coming apart. The floor beneath your feet felt like it would fall through, but you didn’t care because you were just one of the 12000 strong in the arena tonight here to party with Jay Z! Safety in numbers.

Jay Z

You wouldn’t think it but Jay Z is 43, he absolutely rocked the show all night for an hour and a half, no filler, all killer. So we excused him for a couple of brief respites. During these, Timberland treated us to his beat-boxing skills. He would build up a backing track only to play classic hip hop tracks over the top, a personal favourite was his own organic beat behind Missy Elliot’s ‘Get’cha freak on’. We even got a sneak peak of a new track from his new album. But tonight was all about one man.

Jay Z

Jay Z with a perfect balance of old and new and his own personal favourites culminated in a cleverly crafted set. However this was no over rehearsed show that goes to city after city, night after night. No, Jigga-man mixes his set lists up every night, Birmingham was given the treatment.

At the end of ‘Empire state of mind’, Jay Z turned to his band and said to fade the music. He wanted to hear the sold out arena sing the Alicia Keys’ chorus back at him. This didn’t exactly go to plan and the band cut the beat dead, the crowd never sang back. This is it, 12000 people, awkward, somebody has made a mistake. But Jay Z, the accomplished artist that he is, kept his cool and brought it back by cleverly conducting his band. On his command, the drummer kicked back in with the beat, joined by the bass player, who then was joined by Timberland playing the loops. Jay Z spat the last verse which builds up to the chorus and then… voilà! The crowd finally got to sing the chorus back, one of those hair raising moments. Something, Jay Z said, was born in Birmingham that night and will be taken to every show from here on in.

Jay Z

His encore was perfect; he kicked in with ‘Encore’ and then stopped to take time out to recognise his audience, something I’d never seen before. To the back drop of a keyboard melody he picked out members of the audience, identified by their clothes, their look, their hair, any distinguishable features he deemed worth a mention. Somehow he managed to make a twelve thousand capacity room feel intimate.

Jay Z

A humbled Jay Z, before kicking into his final number, thanked the crowd and was so respectful to them for their fandom and undiminishing faith in him. Jay Z concluded with “Thank you everybody for rockin’ with me”, but I feel I can speak for the whole room now… the pleasure was all ours. Brooklyn you did it, again.

Jay Z

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