If Jay Z and Justin Timberlake's tour name "Legends of the Summer" didn't indicate some annotated (both self- and other-) Masters of the Musical Universe status, other signifiers weren't hard to spot Friday night at Yankee Stadium. There were screens of Italian marble statues expanding on the iconography of Magna Carta… Holy Grail's cover. There was Jay Z (né Jay-Z), right from set opener "Holy Grail," giving his "Surveying over the land, realizing I own everything and nodding proudly while I fold my arms" face that, at this point, should also be encased and preserved next to the Magna Carta. But, more than any of that, there was a two-and-a-half-hour, 38-song greatest hits set that saw the two megastars both trading off each other and letting the other hold court over 60,000 people.
Backed by an 18-piece band dressed head-to-toe in red, the duo shuffled between rapid-fire medley (how all hip hop shows should be) and elongated vamping (how all R&B shows should be). For the first 30 minutes, Jay and Timberlake appeared together, as Jay's "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)" and "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" blended with Timberlake's "Señorita" and "Rock Your Body" before Jay relinquished 45 minutes for Timberlake to command the stage. This combination of dual headliners and individual sets would continue throughout the night, but unlike Jay's acrimonious Best of Both Worlds tour with R. Kelly, the chemistry between the two was obvious.
There are few weirder or more enjoyable sites than seeing Justin Timberlake as a hip hop hype man. Throughout the night, he will move from one side of the stage to the other while Jay is rapping, pumping his fist and jovially bumping his co-star mid-verse. He will pick up an electric guitar to bang out the riff from "99 Problems," augmenting the second verse with the iconic riff from Aerosmith/Run-D.M.C.'s "Walk This Way." He will say, earnestly, "Give it up one time for Jigga man" and the crowd will lose their minds.
But despite the co-headlining status, this was a Jay-Z show. After Jay's first solo set, which included "Heart of the City," (with Timberlake on organ) "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," "PSA" and his verse from Kanye West's "Clique," Timberlake's soft, sultry "Pusher Love Drug" seemed like a comedown after a dizzying coke high. Timberlake himself will acknowledge this, telling the crowd before "Until the End of Time," "Sit down. Take a break. Let's all just chill out for a second." Strangely enough, the set was light on Magna Carta… Holy Grail material. Perhaps six hours of "Picasso Baby" was enough.
Still, Timberlake will give you every song you want: "LoveStoned." "Mirrors." "Tunnel Vision." "Summer Love." "Take Back the Night." (Though he will not mention the latter title's questionable history.) He's a vaudeville man, hopping on organ, piano and guitar and, without a coterie of backup dancers, keeping his choreography centered, subtle and precise without overwhelming the music.
Jay Z, for his part, has been on a 10-year victory lap, with no signs of abatement tonight. His charisma allows him to do minimal heavy lifting, or, more precisely, what looks minimal given how effortless it is for him. He jokingly admonishes a man in the first few rows for not grabbing his girlfriend as Jay instructed, making a stadium crowd intimate. Among 60,000 people, Jay will notice if you don't do what he says. "99 Problems," a set highlight, will forever be the song you most want to hear on stadium-sized speakers, while set closer "Young Forever" took on new meaning after Jay dedicated the track to Trayvon Martin.
Three years ago, Jay Z performed at Yankee Stadium's first concert, bringing out Kanye West, Beyonce, Eminem, Drake, Coldplay's Chris Martin and Swizz Beatz. Tonight, the focus is on Jay and Timberlake, with only Alicia Keys appearing for "Empire State of Mind" and Timbaland showing up for "SexyBack." Before "Empire," Timberlake breaks into Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York," and while not the rousing, stadium-wide singalong the duo might have intended it to be, it signaled Jay's umpteenth attempt to remind you that he is the new Sinatra. Or something. While Kanye's output in the past decade has been hip hop's most intriguing and innovative, tonight's show proved that Jay's King of the Universe title remains unchallenged.