AUBURN HILLS -- Two turntables and a microphone was once the blueprint for all a rapper needed to make music that was genuine and credible. That's been bastardized a bit over the years as star MCs have embraced rock 'n' roll-style spectacle, but on Sunday night (March 14) at the Palace, Jay-Z reminded a sell-out crowd of 15,000 that a man and his microphone can still get the job done.
Not that the New York musician and mogul's nearly two-hour BP3 (Blueprint 3) Tour show was austere. The rapper also known as Shawn Carter (and, of course, Beyonce's husband) was backed by a 10 piece band and an array of rear-stage columns that were illuminated by frequent video footage. But unlike recent outings by Kanye West and even Black Eyed Peas, where the acts were dwarfed by their stage, Jay-Z was in control throughout the night, prowling the stage in black and spitting rhymes that combined the ferocity of an upstart newbie with the polish of someone who's been doing at this for 15 years as a recording artist -- at one point even apologizing for his language to a young child standing on a chair in the front row, explaining that "Uncle Jay's got a potty mouth."
That wealth of material certainly worked to Jay-Z's advantage on Sunday, allowing him to survey an entire career of flavors and forms from the in-your-face material of his 1996 debut "Reasonable Doubt" -- including a particularly hot "Can I Live" -- to mainstream crossover fare such as the show-opening "Run This Town," "Empire State of Mind" and "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)." He mixed tight medleys with full-length song performances, confidently swaggering through favorites such as "On to the next One," "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)," "99 Problems," "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" and "Swagga Like Us" and issuing his trademark command -- "Bounce!" -- to keep the Palace crowd rocking from note one to the final bows. And he kept things even more "real" by ending several of the songs with forceful a capella raps
He had a little help, too. Memphis Bleek served as Jay-Z's hype man for about a third of the show, while opening act Trey Songz sang during "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" and "Already Home." Young Jeezy's appearance during "Real As it Gets" led to a 25-minute solo set that somewhat stalled the show's momentum, but Jay-Z brought the energy back quickly with "My President."
Jay-Z goes by a lot of names in the rap world -- including "the emperor" at one point of Sunday's show. But he left no doubt about who was in charge, and about the kind of artistry the right rapper with a microphone is still able to achieve.
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