JAY-Z Rogers Arena, Vancouver BC, December 11

JAY-Z Rogers Arena, Vancouver BC, December 11
Photo: Joshua Peter Grafstein

Despite JAY-Z's 13th album, 4:44, receiving critical acclaim and certified platinum status, tickets for the 4:44 tour have not been selling well. The last few weeks of cheap ticket sales in Vancouver prior to JAY-Z's show had many believing that it might be a letdown. That was not the case.
The bigness of Shawn Carter's celebrity felt pretty wild, as the rapper was revealed in mid-arena on a large octagon-shaped stage blasting through new track "Kill Jay Z." The rapper was wearing a "blind for love" jacket, a sentiment that, along with JAY-Z's relentless positive vibes, would be the theme of the evening. The entire show was just Jay onstage, with his band tucked into cubby-like sections of the octagon — multiple giant screens projected images of Jay in an old VHS-ish grainy format, along with split-second clips of wife Beyoncé, music video clips of pal and collaborator Kanye West, and in-the-moment shots of audience members going hard.
The 48-year-old was in prime condition, rapping with both endless energy and soul. Jay's big song right now, recent Grammy-nominated "4:44," had the performer wrapped around a microphone stand, meaningfully spewing the apology rap ballad. The song has gained both acclaim and media attention for its response-like nature to Beyoncé's own lyrics about his cheating on her. What the 4:44 tour shows fans is that JAY-Z has had a life of hits, but he has now entered a really artful portion of his life.
From "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," to "Hard Knock Like (Ghetto Anthem)," "99 Problems" and "On to the Next One," the iconic rapper had Rogers Arena in full fan mode. For an arena that was at risk of being empty a few weeks ago, concertgoers were really going hard. To be expected, Kanye collaborations "No Church in the Wild" and "Can't Tell Me Nothing" brought a pretty wild response from concertgoers, and JAY-Z was able to do the song justice solo. The rapper broke into a wide grin on many occasions, really responding to the audience's enthusiasm over his extensive setlist. But it was "N****s in Paris" that threw the crowd into an all-out frenzy. That song has an unspeakable power over rap fans, and the only thing that could have improved on the moment would have been 'Ye himself taking that stage alongside Mr. Carter.
JAY-Z was not overly political last night, but like many American performers right now, he had to venture into the area more than once. An underlying opposition to President Donald Trump and concern for the state of racial social issues has been evident at countless concerts over the last year: "Fight for justice," said the rapper. "That's not a black or white issue, that's a human issue."
"Empire State of Mind" had the crowd feeling like they might actually be in New York for a moment, and that Carter smile was pretty infectious as he took in the crowd belting out his iconic lyrics. The evening closed out with Linkin Park cover "Numb," and JAY-Z left the stage very obviously pleased with the pounding, happy arena. The 4:44 tour is simply pure fun, and the rapper's started-from-the-bottom positivity is infectious. There's no way around it.
"Anything you set your attention to you can do," said Jay. "You gotta surrender to the process. You gotta be crazy, you gotta be ahead of your time."

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Order 4:44 on CD via Umusic.