In the last ten years, I’ve seen Jay Z in concert 16 times.
I can still remember the very first time I saw him at Madison Square Garden. I had just turned twenty-five which is an interesting time in any young person’s life. You’re on the verge of adulthood (or supposed to be, at least), but can still taste the delicious potential of youth and adolescence. I honestly hadn’t been to too many “rap” concerts prior to that. I mean, I grew up on rap and hip hop music, but it was something I listened to in my room or with my headphones on. I was never one to sneak out and see Wu-Tang, Biggie or Tribe perform when I was a teenager. Yes, I did religiously listen to HOT 97 all throughout high school and every single year wished that I was at Summer Jam – so much so that I can still recite the number to call in for your chance to win tickets (1-800-223-9797, in case you’re wondering) almost 20 years later.
I remember so vividly being rendered speechless by Jay Z. I had always been a fan, but I can remember the exact moment where I became a “mega fan.” It was when he performed “U Don’t Know.” It was a song that wasn’t a radio smash; it wasn’t Izzo (H.O.V.A.) or Big Pimpin’. It was a track off of the Blueprint album that perfectly captured who Jay Z was becoming as a rapper, a man and most importantly – a business man. It was not a club song, but it was in that moment where I watched the entire Garden crowd, illuminated by the deep red lights of the stage, put up the ROC and praise the man standing up in front of them. It was in that moment that Jay Z became Mr. Carter – the business man, at least to me. It was also in that moment I truly understood and believed in Jay Z’s genius. He really was the best rapper alive.
Over these years, I’ve seen Jay Z’s career change and flourish into what it is today. The ‘Jay Z’ I saw in 2004 was the hustler Jay Z slowly becoming bigger than a rapper and securing his way into being a brand. He had the Garden eating out of the palm of his hands (or his ROC) and you could absolutely feel the movement beginning. Seeing Jay Z at a sold out Madison Square Garden with floor seats at an age where I could finally buy my own tickets was simply inspirational. This was a guy from Brooklyn, like me! He wasn’t Biggie, who was my generation’s first hope out of Brooklyn, but he was Shawn Carter. He didn’t have to be Biggie… and, truth be told – I don’t believe Biggie would’ve ever became what Jay Z is today, not with Puffy by his side.
Jay Z along the way somehow represented potential for me, a simple girl from Brooklyn. It really is quite genius, overall. He found a way to walk that very fine line of having credibility while he raps about his previous life and still looks like the family man on his wife’s Instagram page. Granted, it doesn’t hurt when your wife is Beyoncé (A.K.A. the hottest chick in the game wearing his chain).
Recently, Jay Z said that everyone has genius-level talent within themselves and they just need the opportunity to express it. Everyone was born with the potential to be amazing – no one was given a special hand at birth. We just have to find what we are great at (not good, but great) and find the drive to pursue it.
When the Barclay’s center in Brooklyn first opened, he sold out eight consecutive shows and ended each one with a simple request: “Don’t be good Brooklyn, be great.”
How can you not find inspiration in that?
So, why did I suddenly bring up Jay Z and dedicate a whole blog entry him? Well, I naturally adore the man (I have seen him 16 times!!) and consider his music some of the best there is. I am also embarking on a new chapter of my life and while it’s somewhat scary (let’s be honest – it’s SUPER scary), it’s also giving me the opportunity to let go of just being good. I want to be great… and I can guarantee you that I’ll be listening to tons of Jay Z along the way.
So, thank you, Mr. Carter.