There is a new demographic in urban music. For years, Rap/Hip-Hop and R&B were considered youth movements. It was thought of as music for the kids to listen to while rebelling against parental mandates and raging against the machine. However, after attending the Heart of the City Tour, headlined by Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige, I can see clearly that this music and its listeners have grown up.
The incomparable Blige started the March 22 show with the two songs that built her street cred, vetted her with Hip-Hop heads and helped establish her place in music history as the Queen of Hip-Hop/Soul. The crowd of twenty- and thirty-somethings sang along with Bilge on “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” her duet with Jay from his first album Reasonable Doubt, and her hood love song classic “You’re all I Need” featuring Method Man.
Both of these songs hold a prime piece of real estate in my memory. I was just hitting high school when both of these songs hit the airwaves around 1995 and 1996. As the American Airlines Arena crowd in Miami sung along, it was easy to feel a kinship between Mary and her audience.
“I can feel Mary. When I was younger I just used to like her, but now that I’ve grown up I can relate to her so much more. It’s like she’s been through everything I’ve been through,” said concertgoer Renee Graham, 29.
Mary’s story of love, loss, betrayal and triumph is one her audience knows well. People around me closed their eyes and sung along to songs like “I’m Going Down,” a soulful remake of an already classic hit and “No More Drama.”
To the uninitiated, a concert featuring the Jigga Man and Mary J might seem a bit mismatched. However, the two actually have a long working relationship. Both thirty- something superstars broke onto the national scene in the mid-nineties and have seen their fan base mature with them. Some might characterize Mary’s set as the ladies hour. However, much like me, every guy in the building not only knew every Mary song, but actively participated in the delivery of each tune.
By the time Jay-Z hit the stage, the arena was at full voice. Jay started his set with a fairly recent tune. When “Say Hello,” a song from his recent American Gangster album release played, the energy in the venue went from about an 8.5 with Mary’s ballads to a 10 for Jigga’s hood play lists.
Jay performed music from his entire catalog. As an astute observer, I could see the “maturation of Jay-Zeezy.” He performed his more commercial hits like “I Just Wanna Love You (Give it to me)” and “99 problems.” But there was a greater emphasis placed on his “album records” like “Song Cry” featuring Blige and “Can I Live.”
Jay has mastered the roller coaster ride a live rap show is supposed to be. He takes the audience from energetic highs to thoughtful lulls with ease. Just when you think he’s going to give you another song abut the ills of life and the hustle, he springs “Big Pimpin” on you just to remind the audience that this is a Jay-Z show and not a Talib Kweli set. (Much love, Kweli).
Miami was the first stop on this tour. The show is bound to do big numbers and is a great production. The lights and sound were immaculate and the large screens that ran photos of
President Bush and Barack Obama, among others, at various times added atmosphere.
Jay-Z also ramped up the energy with guest spots from Kanye West, who performed two of his own songs with Jigga assistance, “Memphis Bleek’’ and “Timbaland.’’ The surprise guest spot has become a trademark of a Jay-Z show.
This was definitely one of the best Hip-Hop shows I have attended. People dressed to the nines and the more mature crowd gelled together like one giant organism. This grown and sexy crowd was out to celebrate performers with whom they have literally become grown and sexy.
Hip-Hop is no longer just for kids.