While roughly 25 acts manned the stages, plus a mid-show extended set from DJ Cipha Sounds, the headliners held court over the night's affairs. Jay Z served as a sort of master of ceremonies, emerging during rapper Fabolous' time on stage to perform "Brooklyn," one of several nods to his hometown. "I wanna thank every person here tonight," Hov told the sold-out crowd. "We raised a lot of money, and we also having a good time."
For his brief set, Jay Z performed "Where I'm From" and the hyper-charged "U Don't Know," enlisting a shirtless Rick Ross to assist on "F—kWithMeYouKnowIGotIt" before Lil Wayne took the stage to duet on "Hello Brooklyn." Weezy had only a brief cameo -- he only ran through a high-energy rendition of "No Worries" -- before the beat for Nicki Minaj's "Truffle Butter" kicked in and she took over for her Young Money compatriot.
Of the night, Minaj had the most thrilling set, flanked by backup dancers for "Moment 4 Life." But it was when the beat queued up for "Feeling Myself," her empowerment anthem with Beyoncé, that the night hit full-throttle. The rumors were true. The two had been spotted exiting a rehearsal space earlier in the week, fueling speculation they would perform the song for the first time in tandem -- and they did, with Bey's pink-clad dance crew battling Minaj's black-lace team.
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Hailed as a headliner, Beyoncé's time on stage was incredibly brief, as she took over chorus duties from Justin Timberlake to join her husband Jay Z for "Magna Carta Holy Grail," introducing the track by stating that it's "my favorite song to sing." During the track, the music flipped to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as Bey perched on her knees, whipping her ponytail around like a helicopter.
Of course, the night wasn't just limited to the headliners, and Tidal X was pocked with numerous surprises. Meek Mill enlisted Rick Ross, DJ Khaled and French Montana to join him in the center of the arena for a handful of tracks, dedicated to the late rapper Chinx; Nas and Bibi Bourelly joined Usher for "Chains," their activist song against police brutality; Hit-Boy brought out A$AP Ferg, backed by a string section; Vic Mensa, Justine Skye, Flatbush Zombies, Fiend and Alessia Cara gave spirited performances; and a handful of non-hip-hop and R&B acts including Thomas Rhett and Indochine, who offered a genre break from the rest of the lineup.
The night may have been a way to celebrate the service's success, but it ended more as a tribute to the city in which it took place. "Make some noise for everyone who touched the stage tonight," said Jay Z as the event came to a close around 11 p.m. The beat cued up for "Empire State of Mind" as fans started to exit the space. "We gon' do this again and again. Sing this song so loud so they can hear it all the way in Timbuktu."