Nah. This was personal. This show — the first of eight sold-out nights that will run through next Saturday — was about Shawn Carter aka Jay-Z aka Hova aka Brooklyn Nets part-owner aka Barclays Center part-owner aka President Carter. This was about his journey from drug dealer to not only one of the biggest stars in the world, but also to a captain of industry, as the Rocawear store and the 40/40 Club in the arena attest. “I think every single person in the world is born with genius-level talent,” he said, adding that everyone needed to find their own talent. “I ain't no different from anyone here tonight . . . I hope that wasn't too syrupy and — but that's the way I felt.”
He then launched into “Young Forever” to cap an unusual, nearly two-hour show that was often emotional, but also surprisingly bruising. Before leaving the stage, he added, “Brooklyn, it's our turn.”
Jay-Z, dressed simply in a Brooklyn Nets jersey and jeans, wasn't really performing. He can be far flashier and far more entertaining than he was last night. His flow, while still impressive, can be crisper — though the reason for the slight hesitations was often that he seemed to be holding back his emotions.
It was more like he was leading a celebration the way a host leads a party. His wide-ranging set seemed actually arranged by emotion, starting with borough pride, moving into his own personal pride at the height of his own success and then going back to his hard-hitting roots. His delivery got harsher as he did “Murda Murda” and “Dead Presidents” from his early days. The sole guest of the night was Big Daddy Kane, the old-school rapper from Bed-Stuy who gave Jay his very first break in the music business. “We have to understand our history,” Jay said, after Kane's smooth three-song set. “Brooklyn legend.”
Video of Jay-Z's B.I.G. tribute at Barcley's Opening: