Day 1 of the Meadows Music and Arts Festival is in the books and there was no doubt who the people came to see on Friday night. NYC’s (Brooklyn) own Shawn Carter (Jay-Z, HOV, HOVA, Iceberg…) gave a master class on how to headline a music festival. This should come as no surprise to anyone, Hov has been in the game for 22 years, has 13 solo albums, and hits for days. When headlining a festival an artist like Jay-Z will obviously have die hard fans in attendance who love the “B sides” but there will be a large contingent of people who only know the singles. Hov performed for roughly 90 minutes and left everyone walking away satisfied after watching a master craftsman at work.
At this stage of his career, we don’t even need any new music from Hov. But don’t get it twisted ‘4:44’ was, as the kids say, lit. The best project the rapper has released in years. However his catalog is so expansive he can just rake in hundreds of millions over the rest of his life doing a greatest hits tour with the “appropriate” amount of “B sides”. Last night, that was kind of what we got.
The Marcy Projects native opened the set with “Run This Town” “No Church in the Wild” and “Lucifer.” The first song, one of his stadium “bangers”, got the crowd hyped with the opening piano chords and the sounds of Rihanna singing the chorus. Once Hov grabbed the mic and uttered “We are…” the excitement level of the crowd jumped another level and everyone began rapping along with the God MC. It was a tremendous opening to the set. He led with a song all level of Hov fans know, and it’s a collaboration with the biggest names in music. Followed it with another single from the Watch The Thrones album and concluded with a “B side” from The Black Album.
The assembled crowd is now in full lather, waiting for the next song. While Hov is talking to his tour DJ and longtime producer Guru, I overhear a conversation from a group of twenty somethings. The crux of the conversation is, who they think Hov will bring on stage. Special/surprise guests have been a thing in live shows forever and many people often attend shows with that hope. Personally, it doesn’t much matter to me but I was curious to see if any of their guesses would be proved correct. They weren’t. Hov begins “Bam”, a serious smoker off the afore mentioned ‘4:44’, and in typical Hov fashion he stops it, and talks to Guru about the crowd being so hyped that they need to come correct. When he restarts “Bam” none other than Damian “Junior Gong” Marley appears on stage. The youngest child of the global cultural icon, Robert Nesta Marley aka “Tuff Gong”. The crowd lost their collective shit as the reggae beats pulsated from the speakers, Marley and Hov were effortless in their performance showing great on stage chemistry. Hov then gave Marley the stage and let him perform his classic “Welcome to Jamrock” to keep the reggae vibe going. Hov then followed with “Where I’m From” another “B side”.
From here on out Hov alternated between his many hits and classics, sprinkled in with the new material from ‘4:44’, which is quickly moving up the ranks as one of my favorite Jay albums. From his flow on “Marcy Me”, “Family Feud”, “Moonlight” and “The Story of OJ” this is high level Hov. “Marcy Me” in particular on Friday night had a special sound to it when Hov said:
"Streets is my artery, the vein of my existence
I’m the Gotham City heartbeat
I started in lobbies now, parley with Saudis
Sufi to the goofies I could probably speak Farsi
That’s poetry read a coca leaf from my past"
Not one for a lot of long drawn out talk sessions during his concerts Hov did pay homage to a few people. He dedicated “The Story of OJ” to Colin Kaepernick, the late comedian Dick Gregory and “to anyone that was held back and you overcame.” Hov also performed “Numb/Encore” in its entirety and dedicated it to the late Chester Bennington of Linkin Park.
Something I’ve noticed about Jay as he’s gotten past the “Young Hov” stage, he’s quick to let people know that he’s still got it. During Friday night’s performance of “Heart of the City” he did a mean a cappella outro. Yes, if there was any doubt, Hov’s still got it.
We are long past the point of Hov dropping a fire album every year or eighteen months. But we don’t need that. The hip hop master and God MC is a husband, father of three, and CEO (well maybe co-CEO. What you got on that Bey?) of a billion dollar enterprise. He is a master performer with decades in the game. He understands and knows how to deliver every time it is required. Friday night’s performance was a de facto dress rehearsal for his upcoming North American tour in support of ‘4:44’, and if that was an indication of what to expect, Hov fans are in for a tremendous show.
See Hov at Meadows performing classics like “Izzo” “PSA” “Empire State of Mind” and more.