There was really only one man for the job. Only one who could honor such a terrible tragedy without making the night anything but a celebration. Only one MC so symbolic of New York City and its potential, yet so loved by all. Only Jay-Z can rock Madison Square Garden on 9/11.
Of course, the cynics could just as easily say that Jay had a whole other anniversary on his mind, that this wasn't just some benefit concert for a charity with a really long name (the New York Police & Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund). Exactly eight years ago, on September 11, 2001, Jay released his landmark album, The Blueprint, and his latest disc, The Blueprint 3, dropped on Tuesday. No coincidences here.
But this gig wasn't about Jay; it was about New York. And the Brooklyn-bred rapper certainly put on a show worthy of his hometown. For two solid hours, Hova and his crack 10-piece band (featuring two drummers and a horn section) gave a sold-out crowd of 20,000 his best stuff, much of it dedicated to the five boroughs. There was "Brooklyn Go Hard" and a soaring "Empire State of Mind," the latter from The Blueprint 3. And he did it all under atechnicolor skyline of New York City, brought to life by a state-of-the-art light show whose projections soared in and out of midtown Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn.
But Jay also brought some friends along. Rumor had Jay's wife Beyonce putting in appearance, and she was certainly in the house, joining the rapper onstage for brief cameo -- and even performing her hit "Diva." But Jay-Z has a lot of friends: Mary J. Blige sang on "Can't Knock the Hustle"; Pharrell came out on "I Just Wanna Love You (Give it 2 Me)"; Diddy jumped onstage for "Encore"; and Santigold busted her rhymes on "Brooklyn Go Hard."
Even John Mayer showed up to drop a guitar solo or two over Jay's anti-auto-tune screed "D.O.A." The crowd -- giddy and throwing diamonds, the hand-gesture Jay has popularized with his fans -- went particularly bonkers when Kanye and Rihanna showed up to sing backup on "Run This Town." "We stand here tonight eight years later even stronger, even stronger," Jay said before the song. "This is our own. We run this town New York City!"
Later Jay performed "Forever Young," while pictures of some of the 9/11 victims flashed on the screen on the stage. The show wasn't short on oldies, either, with Jay busting tracks like "99 Problems" and "Hard Knock Life."
While his lyrics often focus on "Money, Cash, [and] Hoes," Jay repeatedly reminded folks of 9/11's somber storyline, and did so with surprising tact. "[That night] I saw the strength and resilience that made New Yorkers, New Yorkers," he said earnestly. The same, of course, could be said of Jay's career. Eight years after The Blueprint, Jay-Z, at age 39, is still on top of his game, still packing the Garden -- still New York's champion MC.