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Jay-Z brings his 4:44 Tour to Charlotte

Between 5th and Trade Street, Uptown Charlotte was buzzing on Thursday night. What was going on you may ask? Arguably the best MC ever was in town to showcase music from his 13th studio album, 4:44. The light rail dropped the masses of fans off right at the front door of the arena. The doors didn’t open at their expected time, and people began crowding into the tight sidewalks around the Spectrum Center. They wrapped around and then double wrapped around the building, sliding in between the benches and trees outside the entrances. Security was earning their money managing the lines as the doors were an hour late opening.

The people came out to ride with Jay one more time, just like they have many times over the last 25 years of his career. The number one fashion statement being sported was the NY Yankees cap. I know I had mine on pulled down real low showing support to the Big City of Dreams. I was in good company on Thursday night for sure.

Once the doors did open, the smiles lit up on everyone’s face. Big smiles. It didn’t take much to move them from a state of frustration to a state of excitement to see the man himself. It’s been a long time since Jay-Z came out of the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, and he certainly is a man who took the things he learned there and turned himself into a billionaire mogul. Walking into the area and seeing the stage setup, it was evident that we were going to have an amazing show. Any time I see a stage in the round, I know we are going to get an up close and personal  experience with the artist. Huge video screen angled downward from the ceiling on all sides of the stage and his musicians were positioned around the corners of the stage in their own pit area.

Vic Mensa kicked off the show with his bandmates They were positioned dead center of the stage, and Vic made his way around the sides to spit his lyrics to the crowd as they were filling in. Vic did an adequate job of warming the crowd up with his positive vibes, but the crowd wasn’t quite there yet. They were waiting on HOVA, and were slow to fill into the seats. Even still, the crowd showed Vic some love as he wrapped up his set.

As the time neared for Jay to hit, the stage began to move. What was set up as a flat round stage slowly morphed into a 30 foot pyramid in the center of the stage, while the video screen pushed down and close to the crowds. The screen lit up and flickered with random images. Jay’s face came up, full screen, then began to burst into flames. The lights burned down from above and Jay was there atop the pyramid, kicking off with a new track “Kill Jay Z,” with some sampling from Alan Parsons. It was a reflective opening to the examinations of a successful man’s disappointment in things he has done in his life and how continuing those actions may have an impact on his future generations. Jay certainly hit many of the new songs from 4:44, “The Story of O.J.,” “Smile,” and the title track, “4:44.” He did take us back to almost the entire album collection with some of the hits like “Lucifer,” “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love),” “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),”  “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” and “Big Pimpin.” He even took some time to hit a few songs that he worked with Kanye on, “No Church in the Wild.” The controversy is over between the two former partners? I guess the future will tell us whether that is true or not.

As the night came to a close, Jay-Z had one shout out that caught me off guard, in a positive way. We have lost a lot of great musicians this year to natural causes and one more unfortunate cause, suicide. Jay threw some love out to Chester Bennington from Linkin Park. Jay and Linkin Park collaborated together back in 2004 on their Collision Course EP. Their efforts resulted in their version of “Numb/Encore”  winning the award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 2006 Grammy Awards. Jay closed out with this, and the crowd went crazy jumping in to help belt out Chester’s distinctive vocal parts. Much respect to Jay-Z for not forgetting his friends.

I am not usually the biggest fan of lights and stages, but I thought the creativity of the lights, the video screens, and the stage that transformed from a flat stage to the pyramid was ingenious. It gave the show a unique feel and gave some diversity to the angles for the performer. Kudos to the creative designers. They did an amazing job.

Jay-Z is one of the true greats in the rap game. Even as he is getting older and the game is changing to more auto tuned vocals and less real lyrics, his smooth style still has a flow that is relevant today. Whether spittin fast or slow, Jay never breaks a sweat. He never seems to be forcing it.  It is just a natural pace that you can’t help but ride shotgun with and bounce with him. “Who do you know fresher than HOV, riddle me that?” There is still nobody, living anyway, that can rival Jay-Z as the Greatest.


Setlist 4:44 Tour Charlotte, NC The Spectrum Center

  1. Kill Jay Z
  2. No Church in the Wild
  3. (JAY Z & Kanye West cover)
  4. Lucifer
  5. Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)
  6. Run This Town
  7. Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit
  8. Beach Is Better
  9. 4:44
  10. Bam
  11. Jigga My Nigga
  12. Izzo (H.O.V.A.)
  13. Dirt Off Your Shoulder
  14. I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)
  15. Public Service Announcement
  16. Family Feud
  17. U Don’t Know
  18. 99 Problems
  19. Big Pimpin’
  20. Allure
  21. Moonlight
  22. The Story of O.J.
  23. Niggas in Paris
  24. (JAY Z & Kanye West cover)
  25. Where I’m From
  26. Empire State of Mind
  27. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)
  28. Smile
  29. Numb / Encore
  30. (Jay-Z and Linkin Park cover)

Born in a small town in Western North Carolina, exposed to the wonders of the world at a young age through stories, words, and pictures. I have fond memories of flipping through Life Magazine to see the iconic images of days gone by and the exotic locations that only a National Geographic photographer could take me. Of course having my grandmother by my side giving commentary of how she met Mohammed Ali and where she was as Kennedy's car made that slow, fateful turn onto Dealey Plaza gave texture and substance to the pictures. Since then, my feet have left imprints in the soil in places I could have only once dreamed of. I have seen beautiful children smile in the dusty landscape of SW Ethiopia. I have walked the streets of the French Revolution. I have discarded my shoes to enter ancient Buddhist Temples in Thailand. I am always in pursuit to uncover new information, soak in new cultures, meet new people, and discover new music that can stimulate my imagination. I am on a lifelong journey, still searching for that ultimate experience. The goal of my photography and writing is to take you with me on my quest. If you are unable to be there with me, I want you to be able to immerse yourself in my words and pictures to help share with you an understanding of what it was like to be present in that small moment in time with me.

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