Two summers ago, Muse sold out Wembley twice over. Those shows, apparently, were a Bono-in-a-giant-lemon short of being the most spectacular events since a beard in the east said, “Give us the fish and bread; I’ll see if I can divvy it up.” There were lasers and satellites, starship scenery, Matt Bellamy’s crow’s hair and massive floating orbs of light. And still the princes of glam prog have been outdone by just one man.
Okay, so it’s not as if the most successful rapper alive is any ‘one man’, and sure, Jay-Z isn’t alone tonight, but still, to see Jigga spit verse in front of a 50 foot high Nirvana destroying their equipment is to witness grandeur on a level not intended for our country’s national football stadium.
Truth be told, recent studio effort ‘The Blueprint 3’ is more of an ‘American Gangster 2’ than the third part of an unplanned trilogy spawned by the New Yorker’s 2001 record-come-milestone – there are some deadly killers on there, but some lardy fillers also. Little does this matter in a live setting, as on a stage still warm from Sarah Harding’s booze breath that continually bellowed “C’mon Wemb-err-ley!” through a Girls Aloud support stint, Jay-Z skims the cream off the top of his latest recording and serves it with a bombastic greatest hits set.
To start, ‘DOA (Death Of Auto-Tune)’ not only proves to be the third best track on ‘The Blueprint 3’ – all noir brass squeals, tipsy electric guitars and smarter than ever rhymes – but also the extent of Jay-Z’s un-shakeable confidence. In front of him are 80,000 fans who’ve come to hear very indie songs about colours and clocks (yep, this is a Coldplay gig), and he’s started with a track that his band have only known for a week. Already though, estate agents are pistol-whippers; boxed-wine quaffers are Cristal-sippers‚” or drinking straight from the little spout, at least. Diamonds are in the sky from people who might not know why their arms are extended that way. It’s bassy and very loud.
’99 Problems’ is predictably a big ‘I-know-this-one’ moment, but not as much as the then number one single ‘Run This Town’ (the new album’s second best track), which almost does more harm than good as its sing-a-long Rhianna sample reminds more than a few that they’ve come here tonight to shout in time to ‘Yellow’, and not this rapper fella. Both tracks are thrown out reasonably early, but Jigga, his tighter-than-Chris-Martin’s-curls band and old hand Memphis Bleak have plenty of tricks to win back favour. There’s that Nirvana back drop, the Jackson 5 sample of ‘Izzo (H.O.V.A.)’, ‘Encore’ (with Linkin Park rock-but-not-too-rock shreds) and ‘The Blueprints 3”s centre piece and best track, ‘Empire State of Mind’, with Bridget Kelly providing Alicia Keys’ Radio 2, homely soul chorus.
An amazing rapper, Jay-Z is proudly an even better businessman. It’s why the mum next to me thinks, “he’s very good, isn’t he?”
By Stuart Stubbs
Originally published in issue 11 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. October 2009