Is Jay-Z the best rapper ever? This was the topic of conversation between my friends and I on the way to the LG Arena Wednesday night. You see people always mention names like Eminem, Tupac and Biggie but people seem to sleep on the man born Shawn Corey Carter. Jay-Z is critically acclaimed within the whole of the rap industry, with 10 Grammy awards (and many more nominations) to his name whilst selling around 40 million albums worldwide. His latest album and 11th studio release “Blueprint 3” went straight to number one on the Billboard 200 last year (like each album before it), which was a record for a solo act in the history of the album charts, surpassing the late, great Elvis Presley who had 10. With the album sales, awards and even historical records piling up, surely Jay deserves to be mentioned as one of the greatest solo artists of our generation, never mind just the rap game?
Yet due to the fact I had never seen him live, I was sceptical of his ability as a solo entertainer, again measuring him up against someone renowned for it like Elvis. For anyone who loves music (like we all do here at Gig Junkies), live performance counts as much as quality of albums. I needn’t have been worried though…
We got there just in time to see new rap up and comer Drake follow on Mr. Hudson. Drake has come out of nowhere over the last year to breathe life into a genre that seems to have been on its back and even regressing over the last few years. He came out with great energy and fired through a medley of up tempo hits whilst getting the crowd fired up for the main event. Jay-Z is himself a massive fan of the rapper from Toronto (collaborating on Blueprint 3) and he is sure to be holding his own sell out concerts over the next few years.
The lights dimmed and a countdown from ten began on the big screens in the arena. You could feel the whole crowd hold its breath in anticipation as a mix between Beastie Boys and Drake played in the background. Then Hova rose out of the floor as the crowd screamed in excitement; “I like how this is going,” were the first words out of his mouth, “We’re going to take this all the way to the top.” and he proceeded to do just that.
The stage was kept simple and stripped down but didn’t lack a grandiose feel. Hova was backed by his ten piece band the Roc Boyz which included a guitarist, bassist, two keyboardists, two drummers, a three-piece horn section, and Young Guru who is Jay’s resident DJ. Two big screens hung either side of the stage showing artistic close-ups and panoramic views of the whole set. At the back of the stage there was also an arrangement of flat screens which was set-up to look like the New York skyline and really came into its own during the smash hit “Empire State of Mind”. Other than that though it was just the Jigga man and the stage, and from the moment he appeared out of the floor he just OWNED it.
There were no backing tracks, no annoying hype men repeating every word to get the crowd into it, just Jay and the microphone. It takes a confident man to control a whole stage and arena, but Jay-Z has swagger like no-one else in the game and you couldn’t take your eyes off him for a second. It’s like he drew you in with his aura. And so with the crowd locked in, Jay powered through every major hit he has ever had without missing a beat or even dropping a syllable.
The set was paced to perfection, starting with the up tempo recent releases such as “Run This Town” and “On To The Next One” which were intertwined with his more methodical hits such as “Heart of the City” and “You Don’t Know” that allowed him to showcase his lyrical complexity. The big hits were all dropped in without warning and perfectly placed such as “99 Problems” a quarter of the way through which blew the roof off the place. Halfway through came “Empire State of Mind” and got the biggest audience reaction of the night. Even after it had been played to death on the radio earlier this year, it seemed so different live and took an already epic song to another level. The mixture of the New York skyline shown in its full glory at the back of the stage and Jay enthusiastically spitting every verse with surgical precision will be an image that sticks in my mind for a long time. Bridget Kelly also did an amazing job stepping in for Alicia Keys on the hook, but it wouldn’t of mattered anyway as the whole audience sang each and every word with gusto.
The second half of the show was set-up to showcase the early years, with the hits going all the way back to his first album “Reasonable Doubt” which was released in 1996. Every major smash he has ever released were all there with “Big Pimping”, “Jigga What Jigga Who”, “03 Bonnie and Clyde”, “Izzo (H.O.V.A)”, “Big Pimping” and “Hard Knock Life” being the highlights. The show came to its climax with a guest appearance from Mr.Hudson on the track “Forever Young” and finished with 15,000 fans throwing up the Rocafella diamond sign and chanting “Hova” until Jigga gave them what they wanted when he smashed “Encore” out of the park.
So within the blink of an eye, an hour and a half set had passed with no drop in the energy level and with 15,000 fans all on their feet for the entire duration. There was no filler and each and every song was a hit record which is what happens when you have spent 20 years at the top of the rap game. Jay-Z continues to reinvent himself as an artist and it showed throughout the whole set with such a wide and eclectic mix of hip hop that cannot be approached by any other artist past or present. The best rapper ever? 15,000 people left that night convinced.

Words by Ben Herbert
Photography by Bianca Barrett

5 Responses to “Jay-Z + Drake + Mr Hudson @ The LG Arena, Birmingham, UK – 9th June 2010”

  1. Gobi Says:

    These pics are ‘Dope Man’! Love them!

  2. Wayne Says:

    Bloody amazing, amazing, amazing shots. Well done Bianca!

  3. Bianca Says:

    Bless you boys, you’re the best! xxx

  4. Deena Says:

    Awesome photos and a great review!! x

  5. Frank L. Says:

    Hands down Jay-Z is the greatest rapper in the history of rapping. I have faith in him and he will surpass the Beatles record of most number one hits on the Billboards top 200 (19). He’s almost there.

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