How many shows by US hip-hop artists have you been to that were a crushing disappointment? How many times have you turned up to see one of your idols in the rap game only for them to turn up late, deliver a half-arsed performance, grumble about the lack of crowd appreciation before shuffling off without an encore? If you've been to any of the shows I have, chances are this has become a common enough experience that you feel you should know better than to even turn up. So it was with lowered expectations, ready to be unimpressed that I trekked out to the depths of Wembley to see hip-hop's self-proclaimed CEO perform. But DAMN! This show was serious and full of more surprises than a family pack of Revels.
From UK support Kano dropping lyrics over Gnarls Barkley and Gorillaz beats and showing Dizzee's no longer the only grime emcee who "could be live in Wembley warming up for Jay-Z" to Lupe Fiasco passing through to run through Kick Push and other tracks off his album, the support acts were energised but also brief enough in their appearances, on and off stage before the audience had time to get bored.
And then Jigga appeared for the start of one of the most impressive and hardworking sets I've ever seen. At nearly two hours long and peppered with classic tracks from all over his back catalogue, this was a lesson in how it should be done if you're gonna charge fans over 30 quid a ticket. With professional, confident and actually audible rapping (such a rarity at a lot of shows – and I know it's often the PA's fault but still…) and a decent hypeman in the form of Memphis Bleek, things were off to a good start. DJ Green Lantern showed he'd done his research into the UK crowd, dropping the Forward Riddim and loving the crowd reaction as Jigga and Bleek spat over it. With hardly any time to recover from this, a tune came in that everyone knew but that you would never have heard at a Jay-Z concert a couple of years back.
Everyone had heard the rumours and hadn't known quite whether to believe them. But as the opening bars of Made You Look dropped in and Nas ran out on stage, Wembley Arena exploded in excitement. The I Declare War concert might be old news but to see the two together onstage was still hard to believe. After leaving his old rival onstage to perform a couple of tracks solo, Jay-Z was back to run through Dead Presidents with him. And then it was time for another special guest – one for the ladies (and the x amount of drooling guys) as Beyonce bounced onstage. Not as exciting as Nas's appearance (or at least not in the same way), she still gave a heavy performance and showed her singing talent over Crazy In Love and Déjà Vu. Not really a fan but she won me over.
With guests like these, a pyrotechnics show that seemed more at home in Spinal Tap and quality performances from start to finish, this was a night to remember and gloat about to your friends who missed it. Even with the omission of any tracks from upcoming album, Kingdom Come, this still showed that Hova's return from early retirement is definitely a good thing, for him and for hip-hop.