Jay-Z is one of the greatest rappers of our generation, and with every album and every tour, he proves why his music empire continues to grow. This growth is not just in the form of lyrics and the music he puts out, growth as a man, a husband, father, a son, and even as a rapper. It is this vulnerability what set his 4:44 tour apart from his others.
“Tonight, we’re celebrating Black Excellence,” the Grammy-award winning rapper told the over 17,000 screaming fans inside the Oracle Arena in Oakland.
Unlike past tours, like Hard Knock Life in 1999, or Blueprint 3 in 2009, the Jay-Z who set foot on the round center stage at Oracle was a different man. Jay-Z underwent a metamorphosis stemming from his publicized infidelity. “4:44”, a confessional track off his latest album by the same name is the song that defines this transformation.
“This next song I’m going to do is the most uncomfortable song I’ve ever written,” he told the crowd, the lyrics, intimate, sincere, a heartfelt apology to his wife Beyoncé for all the wrongdoing he did in the past. It is not easy for artists to open up the way Jay-Z has, especially for the Brooklyn native known for his “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man” demeanor.
Besides opening up about his personal life, and the trials and tribulations of his marriage. The night was also profoundly political. How can it not? The current Trump Administration has awoken artists everywhere to use their musical platform for a greater good.
Jay-Z used several of the over 30 song setlist of the night to make his point across; “The kneeling isn’t about disrespecting the flag, it’s about injustice,” he spoke into the mic after performing “The History of OJ.” In reference to the controversy of Colin Kaepernick, and NFL players kneeling during the anthem.
Vic Mensa, an up-and-coming rapper from Chicago who happens to be Jay-Z protégé opened the show, and made use of his set to speak about the inequalities of treatment in our judicial system. “Can I get some lights in the sky for the 800,000 people in America who are in jail because they can’t afford to pay bail,” the rapper told the crowd who reciprocated the message by lighting up their cell phones and cheering in agreement.
Mensa was nominated for a Grammy last year for the song “All Day.” If the Chicago rapper continues in the footsteps of Jay-Z, he will undoubtedly set himself apart from other artists, and this will play a crucial role in his longevity in the music business.
In comparison to the simple backdrops of Mensa’s performance, utilizing a small banner with his name written across it, and his DJ as a companion on stage, Jay-z used intricate video screens which rotated ever so often displaying intimate footage of his life with Beyoncé. Stills of their wedding, vacation shots showing him in perhaps his favorite role, father to Blue Ivy and twins, Rumi and Sir. He also had a full band spread around the bottom section of the stage, not readily visible from all the seats.
There were many tear-jerker moments throughout the over two-hour show, unheard of at rap shows, another reason why this tour stop was memorable.
Jay-Z performed the song “Smile” that talks about his mother being a lesbian, and the struggles she went through while she was still in the closet trying to raise four kids. “Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate / Society shame and the pain was too much to take / Cried tears of joy when you fell in love / Don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her.”
On the subject of hiding pain, medicating, and mental illness, he paid tribute to Linkin Park’s vocalist, Chester Bennington, a friend of Jay-Z, who committed suicide this past July after struggling with mental illness and addiction.
“Even the toughest times are for the greater good,” a soft-spoken Jay-Z told the crowd, “keep yourself around positive people.” As he delivered this message to his fans at the Oracle, he spotted a fan holding up a sign that read: “I beat cancer twice, selfie or a hug?” The rapper obliged, bringing the fan on stage with him and sharing and quick exchange of words. “This is exactly who my message was for,” he told the audience.
As most artists do, no Bay Area show is complete without paying homage to local music legends, at the Oracle show, Jay-Z chose to play “Tell Me When To Go” by Vallejo’s own, E-40.
“I swear Oakland is just like Brooklyn, I feel at home here,” he told fans as they drowned the Oracle Arena in cheers.