Field of Dreams (Jay-Z and Eminem @ Yankee Stadium)Posted by evie on 09/16/10 | Filed under Concerts, Yankee Stadium
Such buzz-phrases were bandied about long before Tuesday’s final leg of the “Home and Home” micro-tour he headlined with Eminem. The run -- two shows split between New York and Detroit in as many weeks -- has been dubbed everything from the World Series of Rap to a watershed moment in music. Amid the jumble of wide-eyed murmurs swarming through the sold-out throng, I heard the term “dream team” more than a few times.
The venue is no stranger to grandeur; yet, still squeaky-clean in its second year standing, Yankee Stadium is a souped-up echo of its hallowed predecessor. Stepping in for the first time, slightly underwhelmed – oh, and being from Boston – you could brand me a hater, and you’d be right. I’ll never go to the Bronx and root for the home team, but plucky rivalry was not on the agenda. While the night hung its backwards fitted cap on the familiar comforts of home, something graver than baseball beef was brewing in the belly of the BX.
Abbreviated acts B.o.B. and J.Cole cracked things open, fresh faces of the music holding court that night. The appeal of their respective “Nothin’ On You” and “Who Dat” resounded in their ability to rouse the crowd – a boisterous, if curious blend of true hip-hop heads and gaggles of future Real Housewives of New Jersey cast members. (There was a lot of big hair and spandex in the building, OK? I'm just saying.)
With a quick set-change and frenetic rush of graphics, Eminem appeared at the center of the stage’s blinking, almond-shaped eye. By now, you’ve likely heard all about his performance – the way he declared he was back and had “missed [us] motherfuckers,” how he summoned the likes of D12/50 Cent/Dr. Dre to join him, his facility in commanding a steady pump of middle-fingers in Yankee Stadium. But unless you were there, you missed the raw, angry energy he harnessed with his mic.
Name any of his mammoth melodies – “The Way I Am,” “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” “Lose Yourself,” etc. etc. -- and he served it up, piping with the tear-into-flesh lyrical fierceness all his own. Tramp-stamp collages and other trashy motifs aside, he was at his Slim Shady-est when riling the ladies with “Love the Way You Lie,” a song every bit as tumultuous and poignant as his persona. Though not on his home turf, Em undoubtedly made a return – to his shocking “did he just say that?” days of staunch don’t-give-a-fuck, his pointed eyebrows and steely gaze blazing. Keeping with the overarching theme of his #1-selling “Recovery,” his electric presence was a sober and startling jolt awake.
Though we were still jarred from the fiery whiplash of Marshall Mathers, New York native Jay-Z was a cool counterpoint. Counting down to his set, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” blared, a harbinger of the nostalgic, rock-rimmed 90 minutes to come. No sooner had he sealed his opening flow than Kanye pounced -- apparently in the same Thriller-red suit he’s been wearing since the VMA's -- heavy under the weight of his most recent self-stirred controversy (not to mention that absurd, must-be-made-of-tinfoil chain from the “Power” video). After delving into his moving painting’s namesake, a splash of pixels flanked him and Jay as “Monster” sounded, a dizzying chromatic spray outdone only by the flash of Nicki Minaj’s cotton candy-colored wig.
From there, the songs and stars were a steady blur spit-firing from the stage as impressively as Jigga’s rhymes. Swizz Keys -- er, Beatz -- helped him move “On To the Next One,” while Eminem re-emerged for his gasp-for-breath verse on “Renegade.” Memphis Bleek chimed in to remind that “U Don’t Know,” and wife Beyoncé glistened in gold, indeed the picture of what it is to be “Forever Young.” While feeling for the pulse of the “Heart of the City,” Mary J. Blige came out to croon, later lending her silky pipes to “Song Cry.” Things hit a brief lull when she took the spotlight, though, corralling the crowd into a song “everyone will know” -- yet, embarrassingly, few seemed to remember. The tune? Her classic, if unfortunately-fitting “I’m Going Down.”
Speaking of missteps -- hi, Drake -- he blew through “Light It Up,” but Drizzy fizzled when sputtering “Up All Night,” which Jay-Z made him re-start (twice). Maybe he had been awake until the wee hours; whatever the case, Jay later reflected that “Drake fucked up his sound...[next time I’ll] have to give him a free verse or something.” For an evening that was partly a pseudo-initiation to the big leagues of hip-hop, Young Money’s Canadian centerpiece seemed anything but home on stage.
The night sped toward its finale with the requisite “Empire State of Mind” and a medley of Hova’s hits -- one which memorably laced “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” over The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” With this throwback -- as well a nod to pioneer DJ Kool Herc in the audience and tributes to hip-hop’s “fallen soldiers” -- the tour held fast to the notion of the return, of going home to revisit old friends and versions of yourself. At its reverent core, it was about respect.
In the end, bloated adjectives won’t do it; the “legendary,” the “epic,” the “once in a lifetime.” The rumble in the Bronx rounded out a memorable summer for hip-hop in NYC -- a steamy string of nods to the past. Re-hashing earlier homages to the genre’s founding fathers, Jay-Z took a moment to honor fellow Brooklynite Notorious B.I.G. Big Poppa’s face flooded the stage and “Juicy” rang in our ears. As if on cue, the crowd dug in, an impassioned wall of people proclaiming in unison, “It was all a dream!”
And though we might awake in the morning, groggy and rubbing the sleep from our eyes, wondering if it had happened -- if hip-hop had really come home -- in that instant, for all his breezy bravado, Jay-Z’s earlier musings couldn’t have been more wrong. This wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility, some far-flung vision of music’s potential. It was alive, pulsing, and well-documented by so many hovering cameras and phones. Back in its birthplace, rap came full-circle, and the Bronx roared. Hip-hop’s dream had come true.