Jay-Z Opens Up in Downtown Phoenix Show

Jay-Z performed at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Friday, November 3, 2017.
Jay-Z performed at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Friday, November 3, 2017. Melissa Fossum
Does the idea of Jay-Z as a rapper, mogul, and pop-culture icon still hold after the artist owned up to his flaws on his latest album, 4:44?

He opened his downtown Phoenix show at Talking Stick Resort Arena with the track “Kill Jay Z." The song tackles the internal conflict between Jay-Z's hustler ego and the introspective artist he's been evolving into.

Jay-Z stood on a raised platform over the musicians who accompanied his flows throughout the November 3 concert. He was surrounded by eight video screens that artfully monitored his onstage movements. Wearing a leather jacket with the words “Blind For Love” on the back, the founder of Roc Nation spat into the microphone, “the pain was real / but you can’t heal what you never reveal.”

In rhyme, he laid out many of the insecurities and difficulties that have come with being who he is. The track in particular acknowledges the allegations of marital infidelity that made headlines over several years.

Jay took things a step further when he told the audience he had something embarrassing to reveal. He took off his jacket, walked up to a mic stand, and launched into the title track of his 13th album.

His fist obscured his face. Almost hiding behind it, he remained at the center of the stage for the entirety of the song, which has been interpreted by many as a response to his wife Beyonce’s album Lemonade. He poured his heart out, declared his love for his family, and moved only to make sure he addressed the capacity crowd surrounding him on all sides.
He stood like a man grateful to have figured out what was important to him, stating that his “heart breaks for the day [he has] to explain his mistakes.” Those would be powerful words for anyone to say, but to hear them come from the mouth of the man considered one of the greatest rappers alive is jarring.

It was mesmerizing to see Jay-Z more as an imperfect, vulnerable man. This wasn't the mogul who once claimed he would ”forever be mackin’” on his breakthrough hit “Big Pimpin’.”

The rhymes came with all the emotion and honesty you'd expect from a singer-songwriter, not from a performer in a genre known for its braggadocious personalities. Age and wisdom have made Jay-Z more prolific than people give him credit for.

This isn't to say that the sole point of Hova’s hour-and-a-half performance was to work through the drama in his life. He’s not a rapper, after all. He is an entertainer.

In between the slices of his latest work were medleys of the hits that made him a superstar. The crowd shouted “Hova” as he walked around the circular stage spitting out hits like “No Church In The Wild,” “Run This Town,” and “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit.”

Reviews of the opening show of Jay-Z’s 4:44 Tour last week in Anaheim noted some hiccups with the stage and video that occurred early in his set. Three shows in, those issues were resolved. He smiled as he told the rapturous audience that the Phoenix show's opening production was the best so far of the tour.

Playing hits was when Jay-Z looked most comfortable.

He worked the crowd into a frenzy with “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” He even signed the cap of a lucky audience member during “99 Problems.” But when he performed “Moonlight” and other selections from 4:44, it felt like he was shielding himself behind some piece of his outfit.

Jay seemed to revel in being political and current, screaming that love always trumps hate and speaking frankly about the fear of having a child not come home.

But he seemed uncomfortable being reflective with his fans, often hiding under a hoodie or a jacket during those humble moments. He knows fans will always want “Hard Knock Life” and “Empire State Of Mind.” But it was the intimate moments where he poured his heart out, like talking about his mother on "Smile," that resonated the most.

It is safe to report that Jay-Z is still at the top of his game. Full of joy and thanks, he dedicated the mash-up of “Encore” and Linkin Park’s “Numb” to his friend and Arizona native Chester Bennington. The crowd lit up the arena with their smartphones as Jay-Z told the crowd, “You never know what people are going through.”


"Kill Jay Z"
"No Church in the Wild"
"Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)"
"Run This Town"
"Beach Is Better"
"Jigga My N——"
"Izzo (H.O.V.A.)"
"Dirt Off Your Shoulder"
"On to the Next One"
"I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)"
"99 Problems"
"Big Pimpin'"
"The Story of O.J."
"N——s in Paris"
"Where I'm From"
"Empire State of Mind"
"Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)"
"Numb / Encore"

Critic’s Notebook

Last Night: Jay-Z's 4:44 Tour with Vic Mensa
The crowd: Hustlers and customers
Notebook dump: It was difficult to tell which Jay-Z wanted to be on stage. He wanted to connect, especially during “Family Feud.” I thought he stared right at me.
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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil