Well before JAY-Z hit the main stage on night one of the second edition of Meadows Festival in New York City, there was little doubt as to who the main draw was.
A good half hour before his scheduled 8:15 p.m. start time, the areas outside of the main stage were nearly deserted, as fans flocked to try and get a good vantage point for Hov’s New York City return. And Brooklyn’s finest didn’t let them down, delivering a career-spanning set of both his iconic hits peppered in with a significant helping of songs from his latest album, June’s 4:44.
And before anyone thought Jay might ease into his set with some newer cuts, he opened with the formidable one-two punch of Blueprint 3‘s “Run This Town” and Watch the Throne‘s “No Church In the Wild,” to the crowd’s wild delight. “I’m gonna say something right now,” Jay said as the beat of “No Church” still rang out in the background. “I’m not gonna talk your ear off all night… but love always trumps hate.”
He then launched into “Lucifer” — “Lord forgive him / He got them dark forces in him” — before bringing out Damian Marley, his surprise guest for the night. They went straight into “Bam” off Hov’s latest album — indeed, Jay barely stopped to take a breath in between songs — before Jay took a back seat as Jr. Gong delivered a crowd-pleasing “Welcome to Jamrock,” before exiting the stage.
From there, it was all Jay, and he seemed determined to keep anyone’s attention from wavering. “Where I’m From” bled into “Marcy Me,” a heartfelt rendition, before a triumphant “Empire State of Mind” saw him basking in the thousands before him who sang Alicia Keys‘ hook at the tops of their lungs. “That was really f–king beautiful,” he said as the song wound down. “Thank you, New York, for that.”
Wearing a Beatles shirt (Help edition) and fresh Nikes, Hov was on point throughout his set, peppering in newer cuts (“Family Feud,” “Moonlight”) with certified fan favorites like an epic “PSA,” and an a capella outro to “Heart of the City.”
“I want to dedicate this song to Colin Kaepernick tonight,” Jay said halfway through. “I want to dedicate this song to anyone who was held back.” He then ran through “The Story of O.J.,” one of the most-discussed songs off his latest LP, letting the Nina Simone sample run at the end to emphasize his point. “Oh, y’all ready tonight!” he laughed after beginning and the cutting short the start of “Ni—s In Paris” — before having the crowd count down to the beat drop as he started the song over again.
For nearly two hours, Jay reminded the crowd — not that it was in much doubt — that there are few, if any, better hip-hop ambassadors for the city. Ever the businessman, Hov was efficient in running through the hits — a notably seamless transition was “Give It 2 Me” into “Big Pimpin” — but still found time to let some emotion bleed through.
“I want to make a dedication to a great man who’s no longer here with us,” he said before introducing his penultimate song. “Chester Bennington from Linkin Park.” After previously dipping into LP’s “Points of Authority” instrumental during the second verse of “99 Problems” — as their mashed-up version did on the collaborative Collision Course album — he delivered that album’s hit single “Numb/Encore” in its entirety, asking the crowd to sing along to Bennington’s “Numb” hook. A heartfelt “Forever Young,” with the lights down by request, sent those assembled into the night with no complaints.
“Run This Town”
“No Church In the Wild”
“Bam” (with Damian Marley)
“Welcome to Jamrock” (with Damian Marley)
“Where I’m From”
“Empire State of Mind”
“U Don’t Know”
“Heart of the City”
“The Story of OJ”
“Niggas In Paris”
“Jigga My Nigga”
“Dirt Off Ya Shoulder”
“On to the Next One”
“Give It 2 Me”
“Hard Knock Life”