Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jay-z In Brooklyn: A Review

We're only a few weeks away from the NBA season, a season that will see the first professional basketball game played in Brooklyn. Before we can get to that, though, the shiny new arena in downtown BK has to be christened by hometown boy done good (and Nets minority owner) Jay-Z. I've seen Hov perform 4 times now and he usually follows a similar pattern. Opens up with a few of his hits, slows down with some of his early stuff and lesser known tracks, does a quick montage of a slew of his other hits and then closes with a few more hits. Basically, this guy has a lot of hits. So many that he usually doesn't even perform some of his biggest songs during a 90 minute concert yet nobody really notices. For example, last night he didn't do Niggas in Paris, Can I get A or Ain't No Nigga, arguably three of his most popular songs ever, but the setlist was still pretty stacked. This all speaks to Hov's longevity, something unheard of in the youth obsessed hip hop world, where a rap career is usually about half as long as a starting running back in the NFL's career. Just like Jeter is moving up on all types of lists by virtue of sticking around long enough and producing at a solid level, Jay's hung around long enough to become the elder statesman of rap. He's defiinitely lost a little off his fastball (to mix my baseball metaphors) and that point is only hammered home when he gets to the "Classics" portion of the show. Hearing Dead Presidents II and Can I Live right after his verse from Clique off Kanye's Cruel Summer album, you really see the rust on his flow. Nevertheless, this was an above average Jay-z show even if it could have benefitted from a guest appearance or two (Big Daddy Kane came out during Friday's opening show but was back at the retired rapper's home on this night I guess). As always, the best moment for me is the last 30 or so seconds of You Don't Know off The Blueprint where Jay holds up the Roc symbol as Just Blaze's screaming sample blasts away. Usually flames and other such pyrotechnics accompany this moment, but this was a mostly special effects free evening, aside from the occasional lasers. Contrast this to last year's Watch The Throne tour which featured (among other spectacles) a 30 foot pillar with sharks superimposed on it, giant images of snarling dogs, smoke, lasers, flames and Kanye in a leather skirt. That's definitely more Kanye's lane, Jay's far less flamboyant, and is really the only rapper (one of the few performing artists in pop music at all, really) who can hold down a full 90 minute set by himself (not even Memphis Bleek made a cameo).

As for the arena itself it's largely what I expected. It's a sleek, hip new-school arena full of the finest foods and amenities. Basically the polar opposite of the Nets last homes in East Rutherford and Newark. The Nets are doing their darndest to erase any existence of their past life from the books. It's kind of like Rick Ross's pre-rap Corrections officer career. The Smoking Gun should be posting pics of Derrick Coleman and Yinka Dare any day now, "STARTLING PHOTOS OF BK NETS' UN-HIP YEARS IN NEW JERSEY". You can't really blame them, no one likes to dwell on their ugly past, especially when it's as butt ugly as the Nets' is. And the Barclay's Center is step one in their rehabilitation from the Knicks ugly step sister to kinda hot new girl on the block that no one is too sure about yet. Everything from the weird rusty exterior to the many hipster favorite restaurants inside is carefully calculated to shed that loser image. And the food choices are the best I've seen in a sports venue of any kind. It's a veritable who's who of "places people take their visiting relatives to eat when they visit Brooklyn". There's Bottle's favorite Mexican joint in Park Slope Calexico, Bensonhurst Guido mainstay L&B's pizza and even hipster haven Fatty Cue. Of course most of these places aren't that hip anymore, simply by virtue of being in a giant corporate arena, but it's still a big step up from shitty chicken fingers at Continental Airlines Arena or even anything served up at MSG. One surprise is the paltry snooty beer selection. I've heard that Six Point and BK brewery brewed beer is available somewhere but all I could find was Bud and Coors Light (which is fine with me, I don't go to a ball game to be a beer snob but it's still a little odd). Overall, though, Barclay's Center seems to be what it set out to be, a cool place to watch an event. And although I might not be able to root for any team still called the Nets, I felt a little bit of borough pride walking around the arena, seeing people wearing team merchandise with BROOKLYN in big letters across it.

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