Photos Courtesy Of Tidal/Getty Images
When you’ve excelled, or even simply maintained, in more or less the same profession for 20 years, you end up competing with yourself. Jay’s been battling Reasonable Doubt (and to a growing consensus, The Blueprint) for over half of his career. So, topping an inaugural night of Tidal X Presents: Jay Z B-Sides in which Hov squashed his nearly seven year estrangement with Beanie Sigel and had everyone from teenagers to Chris Rock doing karaoke of the illest lyrics should be easy, right?
These days difficult make take a bit more than 24 hours for the god MC.
The most striking truth about night 2, the B-Sides concert not streamed on Tidal.com, was how step-for-step identical it was to night 1 with varying results. Jay began night 2 the same way he began night 1, performing the epochal “The Dyansty (intro)” off stage as his band, 1500 or Nothing shredded the legendary Just Blaze instrumental. He told the crowd “you see what I did there” after finishing “Hovi Baby” with “that ni**a nice” before transitioning into “22 Two’s”, just like in night 1. He even rapped night 1’s show stealing Tidal Freestyle, laying the gauntlet down for Jimmy Iovine, Spotify and all his other Silicon Valley rivals, to a less-rousing reaction. Everybody saw that stream or video.
The majority of night 2 was more Blueprint 2.1 than Blueprint 2. A more concise, streamlined version of a product the fans received relatively not too long ago. Therein lies the central draw of night 2. It was night 1, the organized version.
Hov either rewatched the stream, got some notes or spent the last 24 hours with his discography on repeat, because his retention of older lyrics was markedly better in night 2 compared to night 1. He remembered the correct order of the verses for In My Lifetime’s “Imaginary Player” after omitting the second verse entirely on night 1. Night 2’s setlist was pretty much the same as night 1 except he performed American Gangster’s “Sweet” following “Say Hello”’s intro, at the request of “the Queen” Beyonce, according to Jay himself. Beyonce, who was in attendance, had Hov on his best behavior, as the usually braggadocious MC rapped “I see somebody here tonight that already had my baby” during his recitation of “Excuse Me Miss” chorus.
Speaking of the astounding influence of Beyonce, one moment assured me that Jay’s wife does not just command attention, she is attention. Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, LaLa Anthony, Gabrielle Union, Adrienne Bailon, Rick Ross and Questlove all entered the VIP area through the same side entrance on the second level. But, once Beyonce glided across to make her way to the VIP section in the center of the second level, a few fans broke their catatonic gaze on the stage they had in anticipation of Jay’s arrival, saw through the darkness and yelled “we love you, B.” Even the Queen got down:
— Questlove Gomez (@questlove) May 18, 2015
Early in the concert, Jay proclaimed the audience for night 2 was “f**king yesterday’s crowd up.” At that point, it was all hollow showmanship rhetoric as the crowd was initially much tamer than the night 1 crowd, expectedly so since a lot of them probably saw the stream for night 1. There were a few fans rapping word-for-word with every song, including this guy in the front row, who Jay rapped along with periodically as if Hov was HIS hypeman. But, the night 2 crowd begun to collectively give night 1’s audience a run for their money when the best moment, performance-wise happened.
The R.O.C. reunion.
We all knew it was coming. Bleek and Hov ran through “You, Me, Him & Her” much better than on night 1, this time Hov didn’t forget “the fire I spit burned down Happyland.” Instead of emerging from the side stage with Freeway flanking, Beanie Sigel appeared from the same middle entrance Hov came in from, dolo, giving line after line of heat from his guest verse in a more controlled and comfortable form than night 1. There was no Freeway…until Jay told the crowd “we’re not done” and those impeccable “What We Do” keys blared through Terminal 5 NYC and Freeway came out with one of the fiercest performances of one of the greatest first verses of the last 15 years. Actually, instead of ending “What We Do” after Freeway’s verse as they did in night 1, Hov and Beans followed up Philly Free with performances of their own verses, making it the first time this song has been performed in full since Jay’s 2008 performance at Hammerstein Ballroom.
Night 1 had Beanie Sigel embracing Hov in a hug, overrun with emotions as the most sentimental part of their performance. On Night 2, Beanie did something only die-hard fans would appreciate. As Freeway was ending “What We Do”, Beans ran across the stage to stand side-by-side with his State Property brethren to do Freeway’s patented hand darts during the “I ain’t talking about chicken and gravy, mane” rhyme scheme. I almost hand-darted a few cups of D’usse onto the stage because of it.
Night 1’s reunion resembled The Backstage-era Roc-A-Fella. A wild group unified by unbridled hunger that leads to unrehearsed passionate performances. Night 2’s reunion was more Fade To Black-era Roc-A-Fella. A well oiled machine so in sync they looked like they grew up together their entire lives. But even that heartfelt reunion took a backseat to Jay’s touching tribute to the late Chinx, whom passed away earlier that day.
Jay Z had a chance to give the fans for night two a completely different show that no one would be able to rewatch 15 minutes later. Instead he chose to give a shiner, less impactful version on the same show as night 1. Rick Ross curiously just watched the show in the rafters like Sting instead of joining his frequent collaborator in the same way Jeezy did for night 1. If “Go Crazy (Remix)” went off on night 1, could you imagine what the reaction would have been for “Hustlin’ (Remix)”, “Maybach Music 1”, “Free Masons”, “Devil Is A Lie” or any of the other numerous Ross/Jay Z collaborations? Guess we’ll have to wait until the next time Jay Z decides to dive in the fountain of youth and dust off the B-Sides cassette.
Tidal answered doubters of the streaming service’s value with a weekend etched in the Hip-Hop history books. Now the question is:
What’s Jay gonna do next?