By Brian Ives
“I’m not going to talk your ear off all night,” JAY-Z said, early in his headlining set at the Meadows Music and Arts Festival in Queens, New York last night (September 15). “But love always trumps hate.” That “trump” definitely had a lowercase “t,” but the double entendre wasn’t lost on any of his fans, thousands of whom packed the Meadows Stage over an hour before he hit the stage to get a better view of the legendary MC’s career-spanning set. After all, they’ve been deciphering his deft lyrics for decades now.
Related: 5 Best Songs on JAY-Z’s ‘4:44’
But his politics were clearly on display, particularly when he introduced “The Story Of OJ,” from his new album, 4:44, by sending it out to Colin Kaepernick. “I want to dedicate this to anyone who was held back.” He didn’t pontificate much more than that, and that wouldn’t be his style, anyway: as the song says, he said his piece and then he was “On to the Next One.”
It was pretty much warm vibes from Jay (decked out in a Beatles’ Help! t-shirt). He’s at a point where most other hip-hop artists are doing strictly nostalgia shows — if they’re lucky enough to be doing that. But 4:44 has topped the charts (his 14th album to do so) and has received rave reviews. He’s simultaneously on a victory lap while proving that he still has something to say. “Never give up on your dreams,” he told the crowd before his rendition of “Forever Young.” “Chase them with everything you’ve got.”
In a more somber moment, he paid tribute to the late Linkin Park singer, Chester Bennington, before playing the “Numb/Encore” mashup from the Jay/LP collaboration Collision Course album. He asked the crowd to sing along loud enough “so he can hear us in heaven.”
He only invited one guest on stage — Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley — for “Bam,” their 4:44 collaboration, which then briefly went into Marley’s classic “Welcome to Jamrock.” Most of his other collaborators were represented by studio recordings – Beyonce on “Family Feud,” Pharrell on “Give it 2 Me,” and Alicia Keys on “Empire State of Mind.”
Interestingly, he started the show with three songs that were collaborations with Kanye West: Jay’s “Run This Town” which featured ‘Ye, the Watch The Throne banger “No Church in the Wild” and 2003’s “Lucifer” (produced by West). He didn’t mention his estranged friend. He also didn’t perform 4:44‘s “Kill JAY-Z,” in which he calls out West, saying, “This ‘f— everybody’ attitude ain’t natural/But you ain’t the same, this ain’t ‘KumbaYe.”
As Jay said, he wasn’t going to talk our ears off; when you’re a lyricist on that level, you let your bars carry the message. But maybe there was significance in the song selection as well. If Jay intended this as a peace offering, here’s hoping it will be received — and received well — by Kanye. Maybe next year’s Meadows Music and Arts Festival will be headlined by a Watch the Throne reunion.