The Barclays Center looms over Brooklyn. (Photo: Steven J. Horowitz)
Jay-Z doesn't just put on shows -- he stages events. After invading Philadelphia last month for his first annual "Made in America" festival, Hov returned to his native borough to christen Brooklyn's Barclays Center for the first of eight shows in a sold-out run.
Opening its doors to the public for the first time, Barclays features a zippy, futuristic design accented by neon lights and brush metal hues. Patrons clogged the lobby on half-hour queues for security and will call, no doubt a consequence of day one hiccups (ticket scanners temporarily broke before call time). Past the metal detectors were rows of fast food stands including Fatty 'Cue, Paisanos and Calexico, as well as snaking lines waiting for beer stands facing credit card machine outages.
Comedian Dave Chappelle was one of many stars on hand at the show. (Photo: Steven J. Horowitz)
Jay-Z didn't go light on the invites, opening the door to a wide range of media and celebrities. Waiting on line for a ticket were restaurateur Mario Batali in his signature Crocs and comedian Dave Chappelle, each of whom were subjected to the venue's technical shortcomings. Inside the stadium, broadcast journalist Al Roker, fashion designer Tory Burch, record executive Irv Gotti (The Inc), Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Magic Johnson, Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer and Pepsi CMO Frank Cooper watched as Jay entertained the crowd.
The night prior, Jay had opened his 40/40 Club at Barclays with an assortment of guests including Rihanna, J. Cole and Lyor Cohen. The latter two reappeared at the concert as well as a crew of music types including Lil' Cease, Claude Kelly, Memphis Bleek, Angie Martinez and DJ Enuff. Brooklyn Nets players Toko Shengelia, Josh Childress, Tyshawn Taylor, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Andray Blatche also showed up to support their new boss. Journalists such as The New York Times' Jon Caramanica and Complex's Ernest Baker were spotted scribbling notes in the crowd.
Fans packed the arena, which touts stacks of tiers that almost reach the ceiling. Following a borough-centric set from Hot 97's Mister Cee, Brooklyn's own took the stage at 9:40 p.m., taking his perch on a rectangular lip jutting out from the massive screen-adorned set, rumored to have cost $400,000.
All By Myself: Jay-Z ran through his first of 8 nights with only a single guest, claiming the spotlight all himself. (Photo: Steven J. Horowitz)
By now, every show that Jay performs is essentially a greatest hits review dotted by surprise guests to rev the crowd. But in the days prior to the grand opening, he said that he wouldn't have any co-stars, and almost entirely kept his word save for an eleventh inning appearance from Big Daddy Kane. The absence of guests merely underlined Jay's star power. During his near two-hour show, the 42-year-old mogul fronted his Roc Boys live band with cuts both deep and fresh from his catalogue, showing uncharacteristic emotion at the event's overwhelming significance.
"Everybody that's in here tonight is from Brooklyn. So here we go Brooklyn, what's up?" said Jay. "This was a long journey to be here. We started out in 2003. What's up [Barclays developer] Bruce [Ratner]? Bruce came to meet at the 40/40 Club. He had this idea and vision to take this to Brooklyn. I said, wassup? I'ma tell y'all tonight. I've been on many stages, been all around the world. Nothing feels like tonight."
Team Colors: Jay decked out in a Brooklyn Nets jersey. (Photo: Steven J. Horowitz)
The set played as an ode to BK, setting off with the bristling hometown anthem "Where I'm From." While rumors flooded Twitter that he had shelled out bucks for a Notorious B.I.G. hologram, Jigga actually paid homage to the fallen rapper by projecting his image onto a silk screen as he recited "Kick in the Door" and "Juicy." The show was a highlight reel of hits, with Jay pausing to take sips from two bottles of Ace of Spades between "99 Problems," "Run This Town" and "Hard Knock Life."
Big Daddy Kane with backup dancers. (Photo: Steven J. Horowitz)
"They call me H.O. eight shows," he smugly quipped, delivering a new verse for those quick enough to film the debut. After performing "Dead Presidents," "Can I Live?" and "Empire State of Mind," he left the stage for an encore, bringing out Big Daddy Kane and his dancers Scoop and Scrap Lover to throw it back to the golden era. "Big Daddy Kane was before me, before B.I.G. We have to understand out history. Brooklyn legend," said Jay.
Before exiting the stage, he shuffled through his verses from G.O.O.D. Music's "Clique," Rick Ross' "3 Kings" and "Money Ain't a Thang," bragging, "I got a million of these." But seven more shows were on the docket, and Jay ducked from the stage leaving Brooklyn feeling truly universal.