"Hova, Hova, Hova!" the crowd yelled at All Points West late Friday night, breathlessly waiting for the festival's last-minute headliner to take the stage. The rain had abated by then, but a six-inch layer of mud coated Jersey City, NJ's Liberty State Park. Ignoring the sinking feeling under their feet, fans were singular in their focus on a large projection screen that counted down from ten minutes to the very moment that Jay-Z would arrive.
When he finally did, clad in all black - his promised uniform for the next year - Jay-Z commanded the stage and thrilled the masses for a good hour and a half, joined by hypeman Memphis Bleek, a full band and DJ. He opened with a raucous cover of "No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn" in tribute to the night's original headliners, the Beastie Boys, and he later paid heartfelt respects to his hometown peers. "I want to dedicate this show to Adam," said Jay-Z, referring to Adam "MCA" Yauch, whose recent cancer diagnosis has stalled the Beasties' performance dates and upcoming album. "Y'all are pioneers. One of the reasons I'm on this stage is because of y'all."
Jay-Z barreled through past hits like the seething "Public Service Announcement," "The Black Album" cut "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" and the skittish "Jigga What," even throwing in a true classic for good measure: "Can I Live," from 1996's landmark "Reasonable Doubt" album. "A lot of you are probably too young to know this one," he said. "This is for those who got the first album." "H to the Izzo" featured a moving introduction that showcased the song it samples, "I Want You Back" by The Jackson 5. "Put your two's in the air for Michael Jackson - the greatest entertainer of all-time," Jay-Z ordered as the audience dutifully threw up peace signs.
The newer hits were often just as powerful: "My President Is Black" recaptured Inauguration Day euphoria while "Roc Boys," from JayZ's last album "American Gangster," soared thanks to a tremendous brass section.
After leaving briefly to rest his sore voice and don a black fitted baseball cap, Jay-Z returned for a 20-minute encore that started with a new verse from his upcoming album, "The Blueprint 3," and quickly launched into a medley of more greatest hits: "Money Ain't a Thing," "Fiesta," "I'm Feeling It," "Cant I Get A...," "99 Problems," Big Pimpin'," and "Hard Knock Life."
The rapper closed out his first U.S. festival show predictably but powerfully, with the Linkin Park-assisted version of "Encore," and finished off with a chorus of shout outs to individual fans in the crowd - "You knew all the lyrics, homie. I see you." "You in the crutches, I don't know what happened to you, but I appreciate you coming through." Then he flashed his own two's, sauntered offstage and dashed away in a black Maybach waiting just alongside the stage, his swagger still very much intact.