Artist: Jay-ZTitle: Reasonable Doubt (Concert Review)Rating: 4 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Jason Newman
“Is this Brooklyn’s house tonight?”
As Funkmaster Flex warmed up the crowd before Jay-Z’s concert-come-tribute last night (Sunday, June 25, 2006) celebrating the 10-year anniversary of his classic debut Reasonable Doubt, it’s safe to assume Radio City Music Hall had never heard the phrase before tonight. The venue, not normally associated with Hip-Hop shows, proved the perfect set-up for Hov to bring his colossal stage show to reminisce, re-create and re-interpret his first album.
With enthusiasm at a fever pitch, the curtain was raised to reveal a black-tie, 50-person backing band which included musical director ?uestlove (and his band the Illadelphonics) along with the 30-member “Hustler Symphony Orchestra”. After Pain In Da Ass (better known as the “OK, I’m reloaded!” guy) reprised his opening speech on Doubt from the side of the balcony, a 1996 Lexus drove onstage with Hov riding shotgun. Clad in a white suit and dark scarf, the rapper immediately seemed confident and poised, launching into album closer “Regrets”. Curiously, he chose to perform Doubt, released 10 years ago to the day, in reverse chronological order (Did he feel more highlights came earlier in the album or was he just saving his most surprising guest for the end of the show?).
Not content to simply recreate the album note for note, many songs switched mid-track to give an entirely different take on established classics, changing genres and re-creating classic Hip-Hop beats. After the original “22 Two’s” was performed, the band quickly went into A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” before Hov doubled the original song and rhymed “44 Four’s” a cappella (Dont believe him? The screens kept a running total). With Snoop’s voice on “Murder Was the Case” the sampled chorus for “D’Evils”, the ominous sound of “Murder” provided a creepier sonic background than anything found on the album. And in a fitting tribute to his borough, Ol Dirty Bastard’s “Brooklyn Zoo” was used to close out “Brooklyn’s Finest”.
Perhaps even more creative than the sample re-creations, though, were the seamless musical transitions engineered by ?uestlove for many songs that gave a much-added depth to the originals. Highlight “Feelin’ It” showcased the band’s talents by effortlessly going from the original beat to a re-creation of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Unbelievable”, to ragtime to smooth jazz, giving the band a little leeway to jam rarely seen in most live Hip-Hop.
It seemed fitting that given the scope of the event, visuals would play almost as big a role as audio. With five large screens looming above the orchestra, footage alternated between Diamondvision-esque live shots of Jay-Z and images centering on the singer’s past and hometown Brooklyn. Nowhere was this more necessary and emotionally impacting than the aforementioned “Brooklyn’s Finest”, Jay-Z’s duet with Notorious B.I.G. While speculation ran rampant over how Hova would approach the song, in the end, he performed both parts with video footage of Biggie doing his parts at the appropriate times.
This being a special night for Jigga, the big question was who would, and wouldnt, show up to this epic event. While Sauce Money appeared for “Bring it On”, any hopes of a Jaz-O/Jigga reunion were quickly dashed by his no-show. However, many of the original participants came through, including Memphis Bleek and Foxy Brown for their parts in “Coming of Age”, and “Ain’t No N***a”, respectively. In the biggest surprise of the night, Beyonce took over Mary J. Blige’s part for a jazzy rendition of “Can’t Knock the Hustle”, appearing onstage to deafening applause.
Given that people were selling their children to go to this show, Jay-Z knew he couldn’t just do the 60-minute album and end the night. After a brief intermission, in which Just Blaze and his records replaced the orchestra and a t-shirt and pants replaced Jay-Z’s suit, the rapper came out with Memphis Bleek to run through nearly 20 of his classic non-Doubt hits. Appearing more relaxed and spontaneous than his first set, Jay-Z performed medley-style, doing the first verse of every song and giving the crowd as many hits as could fit before curfew. Drawing off every album released since Doubt, the set leaned more toward the rapper’s commercial, club-friendly side. While “PSA” and “U Don’t Know” were crowd favorites, (The latter strangely showing video of various Kurt Cobain footage throughout the song), it was tracks like “Big Pimpin'”, “Money Ain’t a Thang”, and “I Just Wanna Love U (Give it 2 Me)” that dominated the 30-minute set.
Jay-Z clearly let you know who was running the concert, killing beats sometimes seconds after they started playing and arbitrarily deciding to go a capella on tracks like “Imaginary Player”, and ”N***a What, N***a Who”. The spur-of-the-moment feel of the set only enhanced the energy of the sold-out crowd, who knew the lyrics so well, Hova could’ve slipped on a lyric or two and it would have been barely noticeable. On “Big Pimpin'”, the rapper didn’t even have to rhyme, playfully standing on stage while the crowd turned the track into a karaoke joint. It was a memorable moment, not just for showing the power and ubiquitousness the rapper still enjoys, but for the dedication so many people feel to someone in an industry dominated by short lifespans.