Jay-Z and B-sides and cult favorites isn’t by default “gutter,” as Kent took to describing the star-studded performance that doubled as the reopening of New York’s storied Webster Hall, for his discography is simply too varied. But it certainly gave the rapper an opportunity to tap into a specific cross-section of his discography that he doesn’t always have the chance to imbue with his elder statesman charisma and wisdom the way he does with tour staples like “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and “Hard Knock Life.”
The giddy floor-level crowd spent much of the build up with their necks and phones angled upward to snap pictures of the massive rotating Roc-A-Fella logo chandelier and the celebrities in the balcony, roared with approval. There isn’t much stylistic unity in the crowd at a Jay-Z show where ticket prices start at $250.
Jay emerged at around 10:30 p.m., elegant in a black tuxedo, bowtie, and diamond necklace dangling from his collar. He began with Kingdom Come’s “The Prelude,” one of the only tracks from that era to have the requisite grit Clark Kent was looking for. From there, a spry Jay-Z reeled off “Some People Hate,” ‘Don’t You Know,” and “A Million and One Questions.”
The back third of the set saw Jay-Z reeling off cuts like “Friend or Foe,” “In My Lifetime,” and a searing rendition of the bittersweet “Dear Summer,” making it clear that retirement seems as unbelievable for him today as it did when the track came out back in 2005. The set wound down with an airy, jazz-inflected iteration The Blueprint III’s “Thank You,” though it couldn’t quite sustain the emotional high of “Dear Summer.”
“I envisioned how this night would go. I would lose you after a couple songs, but y’all stuck with me,” he joked, never for a second belying any real concern that the crowd would be anything less than locked in. After all, this was a man who just answered a rhetorical question about how he’s stayed so good for so long, “I do this in my slumber, Summer.”