Jay-Z performed live in Atlanta at the Philips Arena! You know that I had to be there.
The cold Atlanta air found its way through any and every split or opening in my 90’s themed bomber jacket as I approached the Philips Arena. Boosters are common in front of any and every concert venue. No matter who’s performing you’ll have someone trying to sell you tickets (authenticity not guaranteed), tour merchandise, or in last night’s case: A dedicated spiked lemonade salesman who called his concoction “Jigga Juice’ and screamed “JIGGAA!” at every passerby. Annoying to some but I admired the work ethic. At a Jay-Z concert…you can’t knock the hustle. When Jay-Z dropped his 13th studio album 4:44 this pass June I was filled with a mixture of different emotions that didn’t quite make sense to me. I felt for Jay…but I didn’t. However, after attending this event and recently finishing his biography “Decoded”, I’ve realized that I couldn’t feel because I forgot one important thing: Regardless of his status and my own ability to watch his career unfold from my childhood to now, he is only human. His humble beginnings don’t match my own exactly, but I’ve never realized how close we were and how close I was to the thousands of fans in the Philips Arena who came to see Jay-Z.
In his book Jay-Z talks about new talent and what he looks for specifically:
“When it comes to signing up new talent, that’s what I’m looking for-not just someone who has skills, but someone built for this life. Someone who has the work ethic, and drive. The gift that Jordan had wasn’t just that he was willing to do the work, but he loved doing it, because he could feel himself getting stronger, ready for anything. He left the game and came back and worked just as hard as he did when he started. He came into the game as Rookie of the Year, and he finished off the last playoff game of his career with a shot that won the Bulls their sixth championship. That’s the kind of consistency that you can get only by adding dead serious discipline to whatever talent you have.”
After mixtapes, EPs, and hit singles, Vic Mensa was signed to Roc Nation in April of 2015 and in July of this year he dropped his first album, The Autobiography. At a listening party in LA Jay-Z called Mensa a “once in a lifetime artist” and as the opener for Jay-Z’s 4:44 Tour Vic Mensa took full advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity. “Say I Didn’t” is a proclamation to those who didn’t believe in him and to those who did. Jay-Z kept his word about signing artist with work ethic, but I think we should give an honorable mention to soul. To be a great, signed, artist, you have to be able to give your all and bare your soul on stage. In doing so you not only awaken the sleeping spirits of other beings, you can energize them up so much that, like me, they lose an earring from banging their head so hard to the music.
When Jay-Z took the stage the atmosphere of 680,000 square foot Philips Arena quickly changed as the lights darkened and fans screamed in excitement. For some reason though, my excitement was tinged with nervousness. I’ve been to many many of shows, but I’ve never seen a legend before. The visuals broadcast on four large screens looming over the stage showed different images of his life. Young Hov, black and white clips of Marcy projects (his childhood home), his wife and children on vacation, video clips of him and Kanye West on the set of their “Watch the Throne” hit “Otis,” and a profile shot of Jay himself on fire as “Kill Jay-Z” began to play and the show began.
Before starting “4:44” he let us all know that this song is the hardest for him to perform. Unlike Jay-Z I’ve never had a my private life in full view. I have the luxury of having every mistake I’ve made, whether minuscule or major, to be withheld from the public eye. Like any other member of the Beyhive I was pissed about hearing what Jay had done to Beyonce and how his infidelities affected her emotionally and physically:
“I seen the innocence leave your eyes. I still mourn this death and I apologize for all the stillborns cause I wasn’t present. Your body wouldn’t accept it.”
As a Black woman I’ve read this story a hundred times. Michelle Obama said that we “raise our daughters and baby our sons” and there is truth in that within the Black community. As women we are constantly scrutinized for whatever we do, say, or think by other women sure, but mainly by men. The constant pursuit of perfection is exhausting and when the same people who are telling you to be perfect or that you yourself want to be perfect for, are so far from perfect themselves? You get angry. You get tired. You become unrelenting. Beyonce sang about each of these feelings on her Lemonade album. Her second to last song “All Night” however, was a song of forgiveness. “Our love was bigger than your pride,” Bey sang on her track; then last night I heard Jay-Z confirm her statement while rapping “I apologize” over and over throughout “4:44”. Again, I’ve heard this story before, but I don’t think I’ve seen an ending quite like this one. When things go wrong in love, you try again. You build again. This is a task that can’t be done with just anyone, that’s why marriage and “for better or for worst” can only be said to the love of your life.
The raw, realness, of Hov is one of many things that have kept him in the game for so long. He relates through love. He showcased more love for young talent when inviting a young fan in front row to join him on stage to assist in performing “The Story of OJ”. The fan came to the venue with his trombone in tow and Jay called it “the coolest thing he’s ever seen at a show.” Eric, the young fan, was nervous and Jay could tell, but he was patient and even told the band to quiet down so we could hear him blow. He was jittery but made it through a verse. Afterwards, he proudly played “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and the crowd sang along. Jay stepped back with a smile full of admiration and respect. The same admiration and respect that each person in the arena, Eric included, had for him.
Things got more serious when Eric left and Jay brought up the current legal battles of Meek Mill. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much you’ve accomplished, you too can become a victim of the crooked US justice system. Jay fully supports Meek and went on to explain Colin Kaepernick and his silent (but heard around the world) protest against injustice towards people of color. “This isn’t a black or white issue” said Jay-Z, “It’s a human issue.”
The concert ended on a historic, celebratory note. Yesterday was the 14th anniversary of the Grammy nominated and one of Rolling Stones “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”, The Black Album. To celebrate, Jay-Z thanked every person in the arena who bought it and performed tracks from the album like “What More Can I Say”, “Encore”, “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”, “Change Clothes”, and “99 Problems”. In all, after watching his entire life on TV and listening to it through headphones, the 4:44 Tour gave me the opportunity to see his life. Reading his book I learned that he wrote impulsively on any and everything as a child, as did I. He’s made mistakes that he has grown from and has learned how to channel these hard lessons into something beautiful, I’m just opening the chapter on that one. Last night, I feel as if our lives collided. He isn’t just a hip hop mogul, he’s a Brooklyn boy from Marcy and he’s just as human as this Kentucky girl from the city that rumbles.