On Tuesday, September 14, 2010 I witnessed history. That’s not exaggeration or hyperbole; the more I think about it, the Jay-Z/Eminem concert at Yankee Stadium was nothing less than a defining moment for the several generations that were in attendance. I wanted to write this on Wednesday, when the experience was really fresh in my head, but I decided to wait a little bit to let my thoughts crystallize. Well, as I sit here, almost five days removed, I still haven’t... recovered I guess would be the right word (that’s almost a pun, unintended, I assure you). I’m going to try and put this into words, try and express to anyone reading this that didn’t have the privilege of being there just how moving an experience it was.
“Ok, so what’s the big deal?” you might be asking. “Even though it was headlined by two of the biggest and best to ever rock the mic, it was still just another hip-hop concert at the end of the day right?” YOU SHUT YOUR GODDAMN IDIOT MOUTH! Oops, sorry. I mean, no you’re wrong, it was so much more than that. To begin with, the idea of a hip-hop concert even being at Yankee Stadium is incredible. Jay said that it would have been unimaginable just ten years ago, and I have to agree with that. Yankee Stadium, even more so than Madison Square Garden, is the pinnacle of entertainment venues; having your show there automatically takes you from “concert” to “Event”. That capital E is not a mistake. If you don’t get it, it’s a perfect, almost poetic statement of just how far hip-hop has come. Any questions about the genre’s legitimacy, about its place in pop culture, and in music culture, and in our culture in general should be put to rest once and for all. The fact that the show was headlined by a guy who grew up poor in the Marcy Houses, about 12 miles south of the Stadium only adds to the poetry.
Speaking of whom, to say Jay and Em both killed it would be a gross understatement. One of my biggest gripes about live music in general and usually live hip-hop in particular, is that the song performed live sounds nothing like it does on the album. There’s the old cliché about rap concerts being nothing more than a bunch of dudes jumping around screaming on stage. Nothing could be further from the truth for either Jay or Em, even when the stage did get a little crowded. Jay performed most of his songs perfectly, without even using a hype man in fact. Em had Denaun (a.k.a. Kon Artis of D12) hyping him, which was fine... most rappers can’t keep their breath as well as Jay-Z can (they don’t call him “One Take Hov” for no reason). What I’m trying to say is, even sitting several hundred feet away from the stage like we were, every song sounded great.
With all that said, what struck me the most about this show, aside from the historical impact and what it means for hip-hop in general, is the fact that Jay-Z and Eminem, probably more than any other artists, were a big part of the soundtrack of the past ten to twelve years, which for me means my twenties (and a little bit of my extra-twenties). As they both went through their respective sets, I was taking a journey back in time. Anyone who knows me knows I didn’t really start living a fun and interesting life until around 1999 or so; which pretty much coincides with Eminem’s debut and Jay-Z really catching fire (right around the time Hot97 had that stinger that joked “BLAZING HIP-HOP and JAY-Z). So while Em and Jay were rocking the mic on stage I found myself back in the stockroom at GAP, and partying my way through law school, and at Ruby’s in Bay Ridge getting my first real taste of nightlife with closest friends and reliving a thousand other fond (and some not so fond) memories. While I was there I said it was sublime, but I’m not even sure that’s the right word. I can’t really find the right word in fact, but I do know that at a few points I found myself getting choked up at the emotional impact. Thankfully, after talking to a few other people, I found out I wasn’t the only one being a homo that night, because the experience wasn’t unique to me.
The show was opened by B.O.B and he did a fine job getting the crowd warmed up. Eminem took the stage a little while later, with an energy and enthusiasm that was absolutely contagious. Him and Kon Artis got the crowd hyped up right away and they didn’t let things settle down until they left the stage. Em did a bunch of solo songs (“Won’t Back Down”, “3am”, “Square Dance”, “W.T.P.”, “Kill You”, “No Love” “So Bad”, “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” and “The Way I Am”), then brought out D-12 they did “Fight Music” and “Purple Pills” , which Em interrupted because he wanted to do “My Band” instead (if you know the song you get the joke). At some point Bizarre ended up with his shirt off. Then Em got serious and and dedicated the night to the real lead singer of D12, Proof. D12 cleared the stage and Em brought out B.O.B. to do “Airplanes” with him. Em did a few more solo songs (“Stan”, “Sing For The Moment”, “Toy Soldiers” and “Forever”), and then brought out 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo (complete with glow in the dark Gucci outfits - Yayo’s was camouflage). They did “Patiently Waiting” together then Em gave the stage to G-Unit for “I Get Money”, “Beamer, Benz or Bentley” and “In the Club”. G-Unit cleared out and Em came back and did “Til I Collapse” and “Cinderella Man”. Em then slowed things down and dedicated “Love The Way You Lie” to the ladies. Then he turned it around and dedicated a song to the guys. I hoped it would be “Superman” but for some reason it was “My Name Is”. Next, out came Dr. Dre. They did “The Next Episode”, “Still D.R.E.” and “Nothin’ But A G Thang” and then Dre departed the stage but not before promising that “Detox” was still coming. Not for nothing Doc, but you’ve been saying that for eleven years. Nobody believes you. Em then closed the show with “Crack a Bottle”, “The Real Slim Shady”, “Without Me” and “Not Afraid”. Em thanked the audience and said goodbye but the lights stayed down so I knew he’d be back. Sure enough, he did “Lose Yourself” as the encore and his half of the show came to an end. I sat there thinking that if the show were to end right then and there, I could go home happy. Em’s energy level was incredible, and the sincerity and humility he was feeling was obvious as he thanked the crowd for giving him the chance to do this. It might sound silly, but it was moving. Em performed thirty-three songs and I sang, or screamed, along with all of them. I didn’t realize how exhausting it was until it was over… and then the countdown clock for Jay-Z started.
Jay took the stage speaking the words to the intro to the Dynasty album (“The theme song to The Sopranos plays in the key of life on my, mental piano…”). Kanye West joined Jay on the stage and they launched right into “Run This Town” and “Power”. Nicki Minaj came out next to do “Monster” with Jay and ‘Ye, and then Kanye did “Can’t Tell Me Nothin” and “The Good Life”. Then Swizz Beatz came out to do “On to the Next One” with Jay, which lead to Jay doing “D.O.A., “Lucifer” and “Free Mason” by himself and then “Renegade” with Eminem, which was one of the highlights of a night full of highlights. From there Jay launched into an extended solo set (“Take Over”, “You Don’t Know”, “99 Problems”, “Jigga What”, “Big Pimpin”, and “Hard Knock Life”). Next Jay took a moment to remind us that the anniversary of Tupac’s death just passed, which of course lead to a tribute to Biggie. Jay rapped “One More Chance” and then just said fuck it and asked the crowd to sing along to “Juicy”. Then Jay rapped the lyrics to “A Dream” (which is one of Jay’s most poetic songs, in which he recounts a dream he had where Biggie spoke to him – it’s also one of my favorite Jay-Z songs). Then Jay did “Public Service Announcement” before bringing out none other than Mary J. Blige. Monday night got the dude from Coldplay, we got Mary J. We won. Mary sang the chorus to “Ain’t No Love” while Jay rapped bthe lyrics, and then Jay gave Mary the stage to take us “way back”. I really was hoping for “Real Love” but we got “I’m Goin Down” instead, which was ok because Mary killed it. Next Jay introduced Drake and Nicki Minaj came back out to do “Up All Night” with him. Then Jay did “Light Up” with Drake. Next Beyonce came out, looking stunning and sounding amazing, to sing the chorus to “Young Forever”. After that it was Jay solo again to do “Already Home”, “Empire State of Mind”, “Thank You”, “Jigga That Nigga”, “Izzo”, “Best of Me”, “You, Me, Him, and Her”, “Where I’m From” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” before closing with “I Just Wanna Love You”.
By the end of the show I was drained. Euphoric, but drained. Witnessing history and knowing it can be a tiring experience. Singing along at the top of your lungs the entire time is downright exhausting. At one point during the night, while he was talking about the historical significance of the night, Jay-Z introduced DJ Kool Herc who, if you don’t know, is one of the pioneers of hip-hop from the late 70’s… he practically invented break beat DJing. If you want more of a history lesson google him, I’m too fuckin tired to explain how legendary he is. Jay told a story which sounded like bullshit about running into Kool Herc outside Yankee stadium and insisting he attend the show. Well maybe it wasn’t, because after we walked to the car and grabbed some drinks from a bodega, we saw Kool Herc walking home.
The night really was surreal, and a hip-hop lover’s dream. Because this is Perpetual Dissatisfaction and all this down-home nice boy shit makes me uncomfortable, I do have a few complaints. Well not really, but there’s a list of a hundred songs I wish they’d done, especially given the guest stars in attendance. No “’03 Bonnie and Clyde”? No “Watch Me” with Dr. Dre? No “Reasonable Doubt” with Mary? Really? I guess it’s a testament to what excellent showmen both guys are that they gave so much and still left me wanting more. I wanted to say something real controversial like if you missed this show you’re not a real hip-hop fan, but honestly the tickets weren’t cheap and they went quick, so I can’t say that honestly. I can say you missed something special though. You can bet that, if given another opportunity to see either of these guys live, I’ll definitely be in the audience.