The encore portion of Jay Z’s 'Magna Carter World Tour' concert at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday, which, appropriately enough, began with “Encore,” lasted for five songs altogether.
For the record, the latter four were “Empire State Of Mind,” “Izzo (H.O.V.A),” “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” and the feel good closer “Young Forever,” which was dedicated to Nelson Mandela.
In total, however, the five songs didn’t last as long as an interlude in the middle, when the rapper-mogul and Made in America main man, who was playing a non-festival solo show in Philadelphia for the first time since 2009, took the music down and had the cameras turned on the audience, for a good 15 minutes of bonding with his people.
Cute kids and impressive twerkers were pointed out, as were sharp looking fashion statements, unfailingly described as “fresh.” It was a tribute to the rapper’s supreme confidence as a performer that he let the segment go on and on, not worrying about killing momentum.
After all, he had already let Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill, an unannounced guest, shine in his own segment, and delivered a barrage of hits, from “Dead Presidents” to “Big Pimpin’” to “Holy Grail,” from last year’s Magna Carta Holy Grail, for which he won a Grammy on Sunday night that he promised to give to his daughter as a “sippy cup.” He had even deviated from the pre-planned set list to throw in his (less than inspired) verse from “Drunk In Love,” his latest duet with his better half Beyonce, with whom he topped Billboard magazine’s Power 100 list last week.
And he had already shown off his superb band, led by longtime musical director and keyboardist Omar Edwards, a Wilmington native who played previously Philadelphia area acts like Jill Scott and Tye Tribbett. For this tour, the ensemble, had added star power in storied hip-hop producer Tim ‘Timbaland’ Mosley, who excelled all night long, particularly in letting loose the slithering minimalist beats on “N***** In Paris,” the addictive hit from Watch The Throne, the 2011 collaboration with Kanye West.
So by the time the encores rolled around, the 44-year-old emcee, dressed in black hip-hop gear with backward Brooklyn Nets cap and dangling gold chains, was ready to relax, and give the people what they really wanted: Time to see themselves up on the twin big screens that flanked the appealingly simple, elevated faux industrial stage set, and luxuriate in the idea that here they were, hanging out in the same room as Hov.
With nearly 20 years in the game - his debut album, Reasonable Doubt, came out all the way back in 1996 - Jay Z’s longevity is more than impressive. In the last year, though, some dents have shown in his armor, from the awkward, meant to be brilliant MCHG rollout where you needed to have a Samsung cell phone to hear the music, to his decision to stick with a clothing line deal with department store Barney’s, despite allegations of racial profiling against the store.
And then there’s the nagging question of whether the subject matter that is central to his songs - which mostly boils down to, “I’m rich, and getting richer all the time” or in his words in “Picasso Baby”: “F-- it, I want a trillion” - is at odds with a new generation of music fans who have soured on rampant materialism. (New Zealand "Royals" singing teen queen Lorde is Exhibit A in this argument.)
If that’s the case, it was certainly not in evidence on Wednesday night, where an area full of loyal fans rapped along to every line with him, as if by amassing untold riches and hobnobbing with CEOs and presidents, their hip-hop hero was taking them along for the ride.
Magna Carta was hardly a massive success, either commercially or with critics. (Its Grammy win counterintuitively attests to that, as respectability and consistency were rewarded and West’s much more daring Yeezus was ignored.) But MCHG still produced a number of songs that resonate loudly with his fans and can be added to his ever expanding catalog of crowd pleasers. He didn’t have to have Justin Timberlake around to sing the hook to “Holy Grail”; the audience was happy to step in and do it for him, in unison.
And Jay-Z undoubtedly appreciated that. “No matter how many No. 1 singles I have, this is my favorite part of the show,” he said. “I will never be jaded. I will always give 150,000%. Yeah I know that’s not really a number, but you get the idea.”