Jay-Z's opening night show at Brooklyn's Barclays Center Arena – the first event ever at the arena - was a triumphant return to Brooklyn for the hometown hero. The evening was, for sure, Hova's moment, the culmination of a dream, but it was also a celebration of Brooklyn itself.
In an opening montage projected against (or from beneath) the stage's giant, slanted obsidian-colored set, a mini-history of Brooklyn was presented, with dedications to famous Brooklyn-related athletes (Jackie Robinson, Michael Jordan), artists (Aaliyah), buildings and films (Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing). A small portal opened from the stage, shooting light out over the crowd. Then, a voice. "What's up, New York City! Tonight is a celebration of the borough I'm from!"
Jay-Z emerged wearing a sleeveless vest and, of course, a Brooklyn Nets jersey. A seven-piece band appeared above Hov. The first two songs were obvious shout-outs to BK: "Where I'm From," about Jay-Z's upbringing in the Marcy Projects, which, as he noted later, are just 15 minutes from the arena, and "Brooklyn Go Hard."
A tribute to Brooklyn's late great rapper the Notorious B.I.G. was next. After a moment of silence, Hov led the audience in a massive rap/singaalong to B.I.G.'s hit, "Juicy." A camera zoomed in on Jay during the singalong; he had a huge smile, and seemed genuinely thrilled at the moment.
Hov would go through another 28 songs, including mega-hits "99 Problems" and "Big Pimpin'", but he kept coming back to Brooklyn. "I've been on many stages, all around the world," he told us at one point. "I played the Grammy's, performed at Glastonbury. I tore Coachella to pieces. But nothing feels like tonight."
And later, an emotional Jay-Z paused again to take it all in: "Y'all don't mind if I take my time. I'm overwhelmed. I grew up 15 minutes that way," he said, pointing in the direction of Marcy Projects.
Before getting to the rest of the of the show, let's pause and say that yes, Beyonce was there, in the front of the VIP section, cheering harder than anyone as her husband ripped through "Empire State of Mind."
After just over an hour, Jay-Z wound things down, ending the show with his hit, "Encore." He left the stage, the lights went down. Show over? Ha. Yeah, right. Slowly a "Hova, Hova!" chant built up. "F—k it," said a voice off-stage, Jay's. Then he was back on stage, and the band launched in "What More Can I Say?"
After, Hova introduced out his only guest of the evening. It's worth noting that, after a massive world tour with Kanye West and his recent performance at the Made in America festival, during which he brought out Kanye and the G.O.O.D. Music crew, Jay-Z performed all songs tonight on his own. No guest verses. No Kanye, no Alicia, no Beyonce. It's hard to see this as anything other than Jay-Z claiming the moment; this was his show, in his hometown, in his arena.
But with his ownership of the night clearly established, Jay-Z brought out Brooklyn legend Big Daddy Kane to perform two of his classic hits "Ain't No Half Steppin'" and "Warm It Up, Kane." It was a fitting tribute, Brooklyn's current king ceding the stage, if only for two songs, to a Brooklyn hip hop innovator, who, it should be said, absolutely killed it.
Kane eventually sank into the stage – literally, some elevator lift just took him down – and Jay came back to rip through five more songs. "Clique," "Three Kings," "Money Ain't a Thing," "Money, Cash, Hoes," and, for the last song, "Forever Young."
It was a great show. There were sing-a-alongs, lazers, dancing, inspirational speeches. But even with all that, you got the sense that Jay-Z was holding back, pacing himself. He has seven more shows to go at Barclays. One suspects they'll just get bigger and better.