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Jay Z’s “Answer the Call” at Madison Square Garden, September 11th, 2009: Muscular Rap By The Best In the Business

Towards the end of Jay-Z’s big time rap concert at Madison Square Garden last night, P. Diddy tells us to give it up for Jay-Z and give it up we do. The place rattles and sways and the audience roars its approval of a strong, steely major set by some of the biggest names in hip hop. But later that night I watched Jay-Z protogee Kid Cudi (who played with Jayz tonight) play a song on Letterman wth alt rock band ratatat that, if in no way competition to Hova, certainly was much closer to the future of hip hop and rock then John Mayer’s solo at MSG.

A benefit for the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, which supports the families of police officers and firefighters who have died in the line of duty, eight years to the date after the attack on the World Trade center, -Jay-Z was in LA on the day, it opened with the Pledge Of Allegiance and the Jimi Hendrix version of the National Anthem by his guitarist before Jay-Z shouts out the boroughs and launches into “Empire state Of Mind” off his just released The Blueprint 3 and he sells the pretty good nothing great song spectacularly well.

Two songs later Jigga goes back as far as Life And times Vol 1 for “Heart Of the City” with Santogold and a little later still Mary J. Blige relives a highlight of their tour together last year with Reasonable Doubts “Don’t Knock The Hustle” and then Mary J. commandeers the stage for her awesome “The One” (but no Drake tonight?). Guitarist John Mayer managed to keep his hand off his dick long enough to perform a blistering guitar solo on “DOA”, Kanye West rapped three songs including “Venus Vs Mars”, P.Diddy joined em all for the last number, Beyonce danced through “Diva,” and Rihanna performed “”Run This Town” (i see her watching the concert from the floor seats a little later. Swiss Beatz is here. So is the great Memphis Bleek.

But nobody upstages Jay-Z and his hand was on the pulse of the audience from the begining. As iffy as BP3 is he performs it with an intense hard gruffness that evolves into a slick flow saving his weaker ideas and highlighting his way with a chorus. It is slimmed down and strong: like a back up dancer at a Madonna concert. This is what big time superstars do; it is why they are what they are. He strides the stage like it is his own living room and throws down on song after song morphing into Jagger and Bono before our eyes: he is the embodiment of a cool swagger with NOTHING TO PROVE though he proves it anyway. Tracks off B3 are mixed in with songs famous a decade ago and very little in the middle of his career. It’s all the Black Album and Life And times Vol 2 and that’s fine by me since he sure can’t write (or at least doesn’t write) stuff like “She wanted us to end cause I fucked her friend, she gave me one more chance and I fucked her again, I seen her tears as she busted in, I said, “Shit..there’s a draft, shut the door bitch and come on in!”.

So how can you knock a Jay-Z gig with a rock hard ten piece funk band and songs like “99 Problems” (dedicated to the terrorist in their caves –dont ask me why) “Dust Off My Shoulders,” “Hard Knock Life” and “Big Pimpin” (but the sample was recorded)? Who wants to. Jay-Z has a flow that is simply a million miles better than anybody else in the rap game and has had it for years. His energy would be the envy of a performer half his age, he treats his audience with enormous respect as he turns up the house lights at the end and points out specific members of the crowd with an “I see you in the red shirt and baseball cap way at the back…”. It is a real attempt to break down the distance and oddly moving though not as moving as the pictures of 9-11 projected on a screen during “Young Forever”.

Jay-Z belongs to the city and on this anniversary he puts his money where his mouth is and his mouth where his mouth is and it is entirely impressive You can’t naysay Jay-Z except B3 is not such a good album, it isn’t close to Kanye West’s 808s And Heartbreaks. Jay-Z keeps on writing list songs while we want the detail of Reasonable Doubt. We don’t want to hear about his real life and he doesn’t wanna make believe he is still hustling in the Brooklyn and it leaves him wasting his and outr time with silly knocks of Autotune like “DOA”. It’s the old rock and roll conundrum: Jay-Z is a very rich, very happily married man. There is nothing left for him to rap about. I guess he’s getting old and I guess he’s gonna be around for a long time. And I guess, like U2 and the Stones, you might be better off catching him live.

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