At this point in his storied career, all Jay Z really has to do is be Jay Z.
During the Oklahoma City stop on his Magna Carter World Tour, Jay Z delivered on just that—no less, and no more—with a two-hour spectacle dotted with his own megahits and an intermission retrospective by famed R&B and hip-hop producer Timbaland.
Taking the stage shortly before 9:30, Jay Z walked out slowly and brought the crowd to its feet in seconds before diving into a lesser-known track from 2001’s The Blueprint. An introduction to producer and apparent bandmate Timbaland followed, then a string of tracks from this year’s Magna Carta… Holy Grail. The semi-title track, “Holy Grail,” featured an intro and swelling chorus by backing tracks (standing in for Justin Timberlake) and brought out the first real crowd sing-along of the night.
The ‘Peake was awash in black and white amid the glow of Jay Z’s massive stage setup, a monochrome Tetris-meets-Hollywood Squares. Concertgoers roared to life at the opening line of seminal early-2000s hit “99 Problems”, from 2003’s The Black Album, which at the time was marketed as Jay’s retirement from studio albums.
But, just as Michael Jordan retired before winning three NBA championships, Carter has released six studio records since then, including a collaborative effort with R. Kelly and 2011’s Watch the Throne with Kanye West, who was prominently featured in Jay’s DJ’s hour-long preshow set.
After a nod to West with his solo performance of “No Church in the Wild”, Jay Z launched into one of the more vapid tracks on Holy Grail, “Tom Ford,” before walking offstage to let Timbaland steal the show with a medley of some of the producer’s better-known hits, including samples from Aaliyah, Missy Elliott and Justin Timberlake.
The show’s second half was studded with many of Jay Z’s most recognizable hits, including “Dirt off Your Shoulder”. “Big Pimpin’” was depressingly butted up against Holy Grail’s “Somewhereinamerica”, featuring Jay Z’s most obnoxious and only ephemerally relevant refrain: “Twerk, Miley, twerk”—maybe a tongue-in-cheek repayment for Cyrus’s 2009 shoutout to Hova in the bridge of “Party in the U.S.A.”
At this point in the night, Jay instructed Chesapeake security to “stand down”, and fans streamed from the “cheap” seats to the floor for the rest of the night.
“You guys paid a lot of money for those seats,” he said. “I want you to have a good time.”
What was missing in all of the action, though: Jay Z’s partners in crime. While he’s undeniably charming, even intermittently addressing individual members of the crowd, tracks like “Ni**as in Paris” and “Run This Town” don’t hit as hard without Kanye West and Rihanna in the house, respectively. To be fair, the wash of unexpected color from Jay Z’s massive stage lighting setup did pick up a bit of the showmanship slack, with a massive room full of red lighting providing stark and ironically timed contrast to Jay’s “all black everything” line.
Finally, the Arena went dark for a few minutes. Jay Z and band returned for the bizarre encore, appropriately tipped off by “Encore.” A very lengthy audience banter session ensued, then band introductions—including a White Stripes guitar solo by Jay Z’s gas masked guitarist—and a trilogy of singles: “Empire State of Mind”, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”—the track that arguably tipped the scales in favor of Jay Z’s superstardom.
Show closer “Young Forever” was preceded by a short tribute to Nelson Mandela and lighters/cell phones casting a glow over the crowd.
Then, after a few words of thanks and an “I love you” from the man himself, Jay Z strolled out as casually as he’d come in, and it was over.