If Jay Z performing for free in Cleveland on Friday night (Nov. 4) wasn’t a big enough draw for Ohioans and Midwestern road-trippers, he brought along Big Sean, Chance the Rapper and J. Cole — oh, and his superstar wife Beyoncé too, flanked by dancers in Clinton-inspired pantsuits.
The concert was in support of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and the Democratic nominee for president was also in Cleveland, snapping pics with Jay and Bey backstage before the show — and eventually hitting the stage at the end of the concert.
Clinton appeared at Cleveland State’s Wolstein Center in front of over 7,000 to make the case we’re stronger together than divided by hate. Putting her arm around Jay Z and taking Beyoncé’s hand, she thanked them for their support and inspiration.
“When I see them here, this passion and energy and intensity; I don’t even know where to begin because this is what America is, my friend,” offered Clinton. “I thank Beyoncé for standing up and showing the world, we are strongest when we look out for each other.”
She then recognized Jay Z for addressing in his music some of our country’s greatest challenges (“poverty, racism, the urgent need for criminal justice reform”) and referenced his song “Mr. President,” dedicated to Barack Obama.
“Rosa Parks sat, so Martin Luther King Jr. could walk, and Martin Luther King walked so Barack Obama could ride and Barack Obama ran so all the children could fly,” she quoted, before bringing home her own message. “We have unfinished business to do, more barriers to break and with your help a glass ceiling to crack, once and for all.”
The 69-year old Clinton would be hard-pressed to find better cultural ambassadors to reach out to the younger generation than two of the best-selling music artists on the planet. Both come from humble beginnings such as herself: Beyoncé, the daughter of a hairdresser and a Xerox salesman; Jay Z, one of four children raised by a single mom in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy projects. Their success speaks to the ways America’s still great.
The show was pretty awesome as well, bolstered by a stacked lineup behind the three glittering headliners.
It survived a bomb threat that led the police to close off one of the entrances and a slow seating process that dragged on for an hour and forty-five minutes past the scheduled start time. Thankfully Cleveland Cavaliers game DJ Steph Floss kept everyone engaged with a cross-generational music mix and healthy dose of crowd participation.
Jay Z hit the stage just before 9 p.m. in a simple black sports jacket, black shirt, Roc Nation ballcap, white high-tops and a double stranded gold chain. He opened his set with “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” while the huge screens above and flanking the stage offered stinging Get Out the Vote (GOTV) agitprop such as “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.”
He ran through a half-dozen tracks including “Run This Town,” “Jigga My Nigga,” “U Don’t Know,” and “You Know I Got It,” before Big Sean came out and shared the stage for their 2012 collaboration (with Kanye West), “Clique.”
As Jay Z left the stage, Sean — in a white camo hoodie and white pants — rolled right into his infectious new single, “Bounce Back,” with its resilient chorus, “Last night I took an L, but tonight I bounce back.”
Calling this “the most important election of our life,” he segued into, “One Man Can Save the World,” featuring the biting remark about the intersection of effort and hope: “All the drive in the world, you still need gas.”
“We have to vote. The world looks to us as a progressive country that leads change.” —@Beyonce https://t.co/3TKJ4H68Kz pic.twitter.com/KXL4PTOGxQ
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) November 5, 2016
Big Sean related afterwards how he’d attended one of these GOTV concerts in Detroit featuring Jay Z in 2008, standing in the audience, only to find him sharing the stage with the veteran rapper eight years later, a living example of the song’s positive sentiment.
Sean followed that with the equally appropriate “Blessings,” and finished with “I Don’t Fuck With You.” The entire show was fairly thick with unchecked expletives, and for that track Big Sean asked the audience to point their middle fingers toward the ceiling, while he stalked the stage, wagging his middle digit in time to the music.
Chance the Rapper was next and arguably drew the biggest sub-headliner roar of approval. He played a different song also named “Blessings,” with a deep soulful vibration, followed by “No Problem,” his collaboration with Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, and closing with “Blessings (Reprise).”
J. Cole delivered a music mini-set, meandering through “A Tale of Two Cities,” “Wet Dreamz,” “No Role Modelz,” “Planez,” and “Power Trip,” before mercifully relinquishing the stage back to Jay Z, who wasted no time igniting the room with highly flammable takes on “Izzo (H.O.V.A),” “N*ggas in Paris,” and, finally, a magnificent “I Got the Keys.” Jay Z’s roof-raising return set the stage for Beyoncé, who looked every bit the star, with help from a stage fan that continually blew back her long blond tresses.
Her striking attire featured a black polka-dot jumpsuit, six-inch (at least) platform heels and a black sequined blouse with a beaded collar. Other accessories included an ornate pearl necklace and diamond earrings that glittered in the spotlights.
She immediately burst in “Formation” and then “Freedom,” flanked by six backup dancers, also in pantsuits, wearing “I’m With Her” shirts.
“Less than 100 years ago, women did not have the right to vote,” Beyonce said to the crowd. “Look how far we’ve come from having no voice to being on the brink of making history by electing the first woman president. But we have to vote.”
Rollicking, energetically choreographed versions of “Flawless,” a few bars of “Independent Woman” and “Run The World (Girls)” followed before a duet with Jay Z on “Holy Grail.” At the song’s conclusion they embraced while screens above shared the Clinton campaign line, “Stronger Together.” The couple individually solicited cheers for their mate, before Jay Z addressed the audience, declaring, “We’re on the doorstep of history.”
He spoke about respect as meaning to look again. “Once I get to know you I know who you are, and when I know who you are, all those other things disappear: your color, your gender, your social status,” he said. “Our soul is colorless. I want to grow up in a world where our daughter has no limitations.”
With that, Clinton made her entrance. She wore a solid blue pantsuit, and complimented Beyoncé and her dancers to rowsing applause. “How about those pantsuits?” she cracked, before growing more serious. “I want to be a president that helps everybody fulfill their God-given potential,” said the candidate.
After Clinton left the stage to exuberant applause, Jay Z returned to send the crowd home with a rousing version of “Hard Knock Life,” reminding everyone of both the challenge and the opportunity to overcome it.
Below, watch the full event live stream (note: the audio cuts out at certain points in the video, but you can hear the bulk of Beyoncé’s appearance loud and clear).