Twenty years. Twelve solo albums. Four collaborative albums. Twenty-one Grammys. Countless business ventures. One equally talented wife, and one beautiful little girl. Shawn Corey Carter, known in the entertainment world as Jay Z, has experienced a life in music and business that seems to come straight out of a movie. But as all good movies, it’s had its share of valleys.
His latest venture Tidal, the streaming service “made by the artists, for the artists,” has seen its share of criticism in the couple of months since its major release, complete with its rather awkward press conference. But Jay has maintained that the service is in it for the long haul, and has done whatever needed—be it tweets or public statements—to let the people know that.
So when news broke that he would be doing a pop-up performance in New York performing only B-side records (songs that weren’t singles and are rarely performed), it led to two thoughts: detractors saying the show was a Hail Mary for a sinking app, or that Jay really is putting his all into this.
“What songs will he play? Who’s coming out? Is #she gonna be there?” were all thoughts that rang through the night, as a selected group of journalists met at the 40/40 Club to a spread of decadent noshery and as much D’ussé cognac as anybody could muster. After testing the Tidal system live and direct, we piled into our respective vans for the 20+ blocks to Terminal 5, where we were ushered to a section complete with a perfect view of the stage (and, you guessed it, more D’ussé).
To say the venue had a buzz is a gross understatement. The age gap of attendees was incredibly evident. Fans aged 18, 28, 38 and older all showed up in the same venue for the same artist; not many artists can pull that off. Job titles, social statuses, none of that mattered. Obviously Jay Z has been one of the best artists in hip-hop for the past 25 years. All age boundaries and barriers were broken down the minute the first rim-shot and guitar riff pierced the air.
From the evening’s first song in “Dynasty (Intro),” it was clear we were in for something special. “Wait, is that ‘Young, Gifted & Black’? Wait, was that ‘Pump It Up Freestyle’?! ‘22 Twos’? ”
Then the night was suddenly stopped by some pretty somber words from S. Carter. Acknowledging the shooting death of Queens rapper Chinx Drugz announced early Sunday morning, he spoke on “being in the fight of our lives, yet we’re still killing each other.” It was pretty unusual, seeing as the crying public often wants its stars to be the voice of the people, and Jay Z was speaking to the masses. His freestyle name-dropped Freddie Gray, Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin (in the same flow as shots towards rival streaming services Spotify and iTunes).
But when my native Philadelphia hit the New York City stage, I became a teenager again.
Those who’ve followed Jay Z and his Roc-a-Fella Records imprint over the years know the city holds a special place in both the history and success of the label. Most significant was the fallout was between Jay and Philly rap legend Beanie Sigel, whose clashes even went to wax. So as Jay Z performed his fan favorites, the moment I heart the introductory beat of “You, Me, Him, Her,” I forgot all purposes and reasons for my being there. I grabbed my good friend and journalistic colleague Khari from The Source by the shoulders and screamed, “it’s LIT!”
I wasn’t a 28-year-old music journalist anymore, instead I was 16 and in Philly, complete with headband, size 4x T-shirt and two-way pager. And everyone was in their own world of where they were and who they were when these records were released. Music is the best pneumonic device the world could ever know. As these records cranked throughout the evening, everyone in attendance cared less about the struggles they’d face Monday morning, sharing that feeling of “I remember when this came out!”
And then it happened: Philadelphia’s own State Property clique touched the stage, reciting lyrics well over 10-15 years old like they’d just came out earlier that afternoon in a Funkmaster Flex exclusive. I found myself moving through the VIP section to find my friends, fellow writers from different places but all very cognizant of where they were and what they were hearing. To hear a classic song like “What We Do,” live in the year 2015, with all responsible parties involved and participating is like a dream come true.
The moment brought us back to our adolescent days, and furthermore, back to the days that allowed us to fall in love with music and led us on the path we’re on today. It’s very rare that as music journalists we can “fan out” and remember why we do what we do, so when this happens, it’s something we hold onto dear.
To be 100 percent honest, I don’t remember much else of the show (other than Questlove and I rapping Jay Electronica’s verse of “Exhibit C” verbatim with each other, and sheepishly exchanging a glance with Beyoncé). But the damage was done and the point was made. Jay Z makes timeless music, and his songs that weren’t even singles can pack out a place faster than most artists today.
Fast-forward two hours in my commute from Hell’s Kitchen to my Bushwick, Brooklyn apartment. Approaching my front door, I was greeted with the incredibly uncommon site of two Maybach cruisers followed by a pearl-white Rolls-Royce Phantom, all three playing vintage Jay Z material. Coincidence? Not sure. But grand opening, grand closing indeed.
Cory Townes was born and raised in Philadelphia, and currently lives in Brooklyn. A devout Philly sports fan, Townes is the Social Media Manager for EBONY.com. When he’s not saluting the plug or listening to all of this Hi-Fi, you can reach him on Twitter @CoryTownes.