"So I'm the bad guy now, huh?" Jay Z said with his famous chuckle, not even 20 minutes into the set.
Though he recently addressed his critics at an April 2 NYU talk and in a recent series of tweets hashtagged #TIDALFACTS, Jay expanded his thoughts in a mini-speech that soon turned into a full-fledged freestyle.
"I'm never gonna go with the flow, I'm never gonna let nobody take over our music," Jay Z began. "I see shit that maybe you don't so that the people out there can get it tomorrow. This Tidal thing is all about the music. We gonna preserve the music, we ain't gonna let nobody take our music. We ain't gonna let nobody offer our music up and do what the fuck they wanna do. Don't ever go with the flow -- be the flow."
Tidal's Uphill Battle: Top Exec Speaks Out on 'Unfair' Media and Who Really Wants It Dead
And then the flowing began, on a 90-second freestyle that touched on everyone from Pharrell and veteran music biz veteran Jimmy Iovine to Spotify and YouTube, with nods to the deaths of Freddie Gray, Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin as well. The full text is below:
"I don't need no middlemen to talk to my n----s / I understand if you don't understand I figure my n----a / That's where we differ / I take what's mine you accept what they give you / I get you/ I don't take no checks / I take my respect / Pharrell even told me "Go with the best bet" / Jimmy Iovine offered the safety net / Google came around with a crazy check / I feel like YouTube is the culp-a-rit /. N----s pay you a tenth of what you supposed to get / You know n---a die for equal pay, right? You know what i'm worth / I ain't your slave right / You know i aint shucking and jivin' and high fivin' / You know this ain't back in the days right / But i can't tell by the way they kill Freddie Gray right / Shot down / Mike Brown / Like the way they did Tray right? / Y'all gone' keep choking' n----s / we gon' turn style / I ain't your token n---a / You know i came in this game independent right / Tidal / My own label / same difference / Oh n----s is skeptical of they own shit / You bought nine iPhones and Steve Jobs is rich / Phil Knight worth trillions you still bought those kicks / Spotify's nine billion and they ain't say shit / 'Lucyyy you got some splainin' to do' / The only one they hatin' on look the same as you / That's cool / I know they tryin' to bamboozle you / Spending billions on meryin' to confusin you / I had to tell myself "Hov, get used to it" / It's politics as usual."
His business hat proverbially flipped backwards again, Jay dove back into an epic set of deep cuts, B-sides, remix verses and fan-treasured rarities -- several of which ("Dead Presidents Part I," "Blueprint [Momma Loves Me]") the crowd knew better than even Hov, who apologized for tripping up on "Imaginary Players" ("that shit's intolerable man, that was very disgusting.")
'Tidal Blew It': All the Artists That Have Hammered Tidal
Still, it was clear Jay Z did homework on his own discography. "I've been wanting to do this concert for like seven to 10 years," he said, "[but] it's a lot of lyrics to learn, I'm just telling y'all this is really hard work. I know you think that i know these shits but it's like a history lesson."
Several beefs were quashed along the way, too. Mid-set, Jay staged a Roc-A-Fella / State Property reunion with Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Young Gunz and Freeway, helping stoke a few fires over claims that former Roc-A-Fella exec Damon Dash still owes Sigel and other artists millions, which Jay famously addressed with a shot in Drake's "Pound Cake" in 2013 ("Ye made millions, Just made millions / Lyor made millions, Cam made millions / Beans a'tell you if he wasn't in his feelings.") And just to make sure things were really cool, Jay and Sigel hugged it out.
But that wasn't the only Roc-A reunion of the night. Not only was Young Guru manning the decks as DJ throughout the night, Just Blaze and Jay Electronica came out for a pair of deep collabs with Electronica ("Exhibit C" and a remix of Soulja Boy's "We Made It"), while Young Jeezy took the stage for two of his own tracks, "Go Crazy" and "Who Dat."
Though hip-hop pervaded the night, Jay Z made sure the crowd knew the significance of having a live band play with him all night, and paid homage to the late B.B. King by requesting a moment of silence before he played a sample of King's biggest hit, "The Thrill Is Gone."
"We just lost a legend, as you see me playing hip-hop, we playing rock, we playing blues. I mean hip-hop incorporates all that shit. It's all music, we just use different instruments."
There were also mini-tributes to The Doors and Jimi Hendrix, whose legendary solo on "The Star Spangled Banner" Jay's guitarist recreated to much reverence. "The first black national anthem," Jay called Hendrix's performance, before not-so-humbly introducing The Black Album's "Public Service Announcement" as "the next black national anthem" as the crowd chanted its intro for him ("Allow me to reintroduce myself...")
It's been awhile since Jay Z has appeared hungry or even wide-eyed onstage, as he's racked up plenty of massive hits and features to fill up two stadium tours' worth of set lists in the last two years alone. But watching him work a modest crowd again was an encouraging sign that his best bars may not be totally behind him.
Here's Tidal X: Jay Z B-Sides setlist:
Intro (American Gangster)
Young Gifted & Black
Pump It Up (Joe Budden Remix)
Streets Is Watching
Friend Or Foe
Where I'm From
Politics As Usual
Guess Who's Back (Scarface)
Show You How
Jigga My N---a
U Don't Know
A Million And One Questions (Part II)
This Can't Be Life
You Me Him & Her (Beanie Segal, Memphis Bleek, Young Guns and Freestyle)
Clique (With Roc-A-Fella crew)
We Made It (Soulja Boy freestyle) (Featuring Jay Electronica)
Exhibit C (Featuring Jay Electronica and Just Blaze)
Go Crazy (Featuring Jeezy)
Who Dat (Featuring Jeezy)
Can I Live
In My Lifetime (Remix)
Dead Presidents I
It's Like That
The Thrill Is Gone (B.B. King sample)
Star-Spangled Banner (Jimi Hendrix tribute)
Public Service Announcement
Show Me What You Got (outro)