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Last Night: Jay-Z and Friends at the American Airlines Arena

Jay-Z, Mary J Blige and Crew

March, 22, 2008

American Airlines Arena

Better Than: All of his competitors, hands down.

Hip-hop impresario Jay-Z spent his second night of performing in Miami in top form once again as the Heart of the City tour got it's official start at the American Airlines Arena.

The night before, Jay-Z played a much more cozy gig at the Fillmore Miami Beach and it was interesting to see what type of vibe he'd be on when he played a large arena a day later.

The answer came in waves but where intimacy equaled Jay-Z and his nine person band rocking an hour long set by themselves on Friday, grandiose equaled the Dream, Mary J Blige, Kanye West, Timbaland, Young Jeezy and a basketball stadium full of fans screaming until their lungs went soft.

Here's the breakdown. Don't expect Jay-Z's concert to start late two nights in a row. Friday night he was scheduled to play at 10 p.m. and didn't get started until 11:40 p.m. But Saturday was an arena show and everything started on time. So I don't have much to say about the Dream, cause I missed him, which must be fate, because he's got a new album out and everybody's talking about his music yet I couldn't care less.


But Mary J. Blige went next and the queen of R&B definitely put on a good show. Dressed to the nines and sporting her trademark blond hair, Mary put on a solid hour long set and had die hard fans singing along to all of her hits. Jay-Z came out briefly and the two performed as a duo (which was a good teaser to all the folks in the house dying to see Jay-Z rap) but that part of the show was relatively short lived.

In typical Miami form, the venue didn't really fill-up until half way through Mary's set (which makes me feel better) but it was good to see that when she sang "Just Fine" and "Work That" from her latest album, the response for her new material was just as strong as it was for older songs like "Not Gon Cry" and "You Bring Me Joy." She definitely still looks sexy and at the age of 37, she must be doing something right as she easily looks 3-4 years younger than that.

By the time Jigga hit the stage, AAA was at capacity and full of New Yorkers that were representing like the show was at Madison Square Gardens. He started his set with "Say Hello" and then jumped into "Roc Boys" which was a nice way to keep things amped up. While Mary J Blige had an impressive band behind her that was somewhere between 15-20 strong, Hova's band was still a tight nine-piece that included two trumpets, a trombone, and sax man in the horn section, two guitarists, two percussionist, and a dj, all of which were brought their A-game. It was the type of show that makes you wonder why more rappers don't use full bands at their performances.

Where Jay-Z has sort of made his trademark in the concert business is by bringing along special guests. When Memphis Bleek hit the stage followed by Young Jeezy a few songs later, there was a definite rise of energy in the building. It's not like Jay doesn't keep people excited but his show is more along the lines of a Vegas style revue and with ticket prices for his concert higher than what some people pay on a mortgage, well, people wanted to be entertained.

He knew this, and at one point, he chided with the audience and said, "I know you all paid a lot of money for those tickets... but we've got a lot of hits."

Dude had so many hits he couldn't even play half of them. But the ones he did were well received for the most part. "Excuse me Miss" "Izzo (H.O.V.A.) "Can I Live" "Show Me What You Got" Can I Get A..." and "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" were some of the bigger one's.

When the chorus to "Diamond From Sierra Leone" started up, you couldn't help but wonder if Kanye was going to come out. The song, after all, is a Kanye track, but Jay-Z was smart enough to just do his verse from that song and let the tension build.

But then the beat to "Can't Tell Me Nothing" came on and there was no denying that in seconds, Kanye would hit the stage and turn the crowd into mush. Folks sitting around me lost it.

It was a great surprise and thankfully, Kanye stayed on to do "Good Life" as well.

And one day, Kanye will probaly have his own concert of this magnitude but Saturday was all about Jay-Z and proved it with his smorgasbord of hits. He mocked flipping through and iPod at one point playing beats from his biggest jams for 10 seconds at a time as if it was the next song he would perform. Just as the crowd started to wild out, Jay-Z would cut it and say, "fuck that" and then move on to the next track. 10 songs in it was clear that the joke was on us. But he kept going.

By the time "Big Pimpin" started, I half expected to see Bun B hit the stage but I guess he's saving that trick for when the tour hits Houston next month.

I must say there were some obvious guests that were not at the venue to perform. There was no Rick Ross or Lil Wayne which would have made sense as they both live here but the show was fine without them.

Timbaland made an apperance and when Jay-Z wanted him to rap or spit a verse, Timbo's response said it all..."You're killing em man. You don't need me."

Critics Notebook:

Personal Bias: I actually would have liked to see Rick Ross come out as his thuggy bear ass would have put a smile on everyone's face.

Random Detail: New Yorkers have a lot of pride. It was like the entire lower east side of Manhattan was at this show.

By The Way: Catch Kanye West on May 6th at the same venue trying to prove me wrong with N.E.R.D., Rihanna, and Lupe Fiasco.

-- Jonathan Cunningham

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Jonathan Cunningham

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