Jay-Z's B-Sides Show Took Me Back To A Special Place

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Jay-Z's B-Sides Show Took Me Back To A Special Place

I’ve been listening to Jay-Z since 1999. I tried getting Parking Lot Pimpin’ as our Elementary School yearbook video song (it didn’t work out). I still remember that Mercedes Benz G500 from the I.Z.Z.O. video. I listened to the Blueprint album countless times, Blueprint 2 is one of my favorites even though it’s known as one of his worst. I would drive around for hours everyday and listen to the Black Album on repeat. One of my closest and longest friendships started because we were both Hov stans. We just listened to any and all Jay-Z we could. I used to torrent discographies back then so we literally listened to every song/freestyle/b-side/feature that was out. My first Jay-Z concert was the Heart in the City tour, with that same friend. We got upgraded to next to the stage and geeked out over him looking in our general direction (“YO HE LOOKED AT US CAUSE WE KNOW ALL THE LYRICS”). I pretty much grew up on Jay-Z and Rocafella. We got choked up over “Song Cry”, hyped up by “You Don’t Know” and took in a moment of success with “I Did it My Way.” Almost every other day to this day, someone will say something and I’ll reply with a lyric in my head — “I DONT BELIEVE YOU, YOU NEED MORE PEOPLE.” He was our role model. We couldn’t relate directly to most of his background and stories but we were underdogs and he has one of the best underdog stories.

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I haven’t missed a Jay-Z concert since that first one, and before this past weekend my count was at eight. I splurged on front row seats to his Magna Carta Tour last year and for the pit to see him and Beyonce (the sound is horrible on stage, never again — though I did get to shake his hand and make eye contact with Bey so still life-changing). The one quam with most of those shows: he performs a pretty standard set list of his hits that his casual fans would know. It’s great — but misses all his gems, or his non-hits hits. The best part of Jay’s shows are the crowds, but also the weakest part when you’re dealing with a stadium. When you hear the whole stadium rap lyrics in unison or sing Young Forever with their lighters up is one of the best experiences that only a handful of artists can pull off.

 

So for someone like me, who knows all his music, has seen him perform similar songs a bunch of times. I along with many others have been wanting a Jay-Z show of him just performing his other songs that are incredible but not big enough. This came true when I got the email from Tidal that I won tickets to see the B-Sides show in New York. I booked my flight and my hotel for a weekend in New York. 3000 of his friends and biggest fans packed into a venue to see someone who can sell out 8 nights at the Barclays Centre. Fans who flew from LA, Atlanta, and San Francisco, drove from Detroit and Philadelphia and took the subway from Brooklyn and the Bronx. Every age group and class was represented, along with every sports team through baseball caps (Yankee fans outnumbered them all). But none of that mattered as we all rapped along to every word for two hours and didn’t want the show to end.

Jay-Z was performing a setlist that you couldn’t predict and every time the first notes of a song hit, the crowd erupted with a reaction of “THIS IS MY JAM!”. The biggest surprise of all was the Rocafella reunion on stage. Memphis Bleek who had been absent the past few concerts, Freeway, and Beanie Sigel whom Jay had been beefing with for almost ten years. Beans was shot a few months ago and had been struggling in and out of jail the past few years. To see him on stage with Jay-Z and the crowd screaming at the top of their lungs for him was something else. I teared up, and made note of how happy I was that I got to see that moment live. The crowd treated Beans right and I was happy at how happy he was on stage. I’ve never heard a crowd scream as loud as when he lingered for a couple seconds to take it all in as he left the stage. That moment was special for hip hop. Every song he performed, I rapped along to even though I had to mumble some of the lyrics that I forgot. I reflected on my regrets as he performed the song from Reasonable Doubt. I thought about the close friends I’ve faded away from when he performed “D’evils”. I was proud of him and myself when he performed his “We Made It” freestyle. I got to be a part of the “Can I Kick It” intro that my friend and I used to recite randomly in college. I cheered at the top of the lungs at the end of the night as I put the diamond up as I’ve done over a hundred times throughout ten shows. Then I went and relived every minute of the show on Instagram. The next day I decided that I had to see the second show and finessed myself a pair of tickets and went again and had the time of my life.

 

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I didn’t really have VIP, but I wanted the badge so traded with someone.

That concert brought me back to when I was in my teens, listening to Hov’s discography over and over again. Being incredibly ambitious and mirroring Shawn Carter’s “hustler mentality”. When I had S. Carter’s Reeboks in every color, wore throwback jerseys because Jay did, and when I made the switch to button ups over white tees because Jay said “I don’t wear jerseys, I’m 30 plus, gimme a fresh pair of jeans, n**ga button up.” Now I’m grown up, don’t wear button ups, and am not where me and my friend pictured ourselves at 16 when we listened to “You Don’t Know”. Yeah, I still have the hustler mentality which is mostly from Hov. I took some risks and have ended up in a great city with a great career, but I’ve gone with the flow in a way. But something changed on Sunday, as I listened to the Dynasty album on repeat and smiled everytime I thought of Beanie Sigel back on the stage with the Rocafella crew. I kept thinking back to before Jay’s, now notorious, freestyle when he said “I never go with the flow, I make my own flow. One piece of advice to everyone here, never go with the flow, be the flow.” I have that energy back. I have that ambition in the front of my mind again. And through a rough couple of years, I feel like my old self and I needed that.

MusicKunaal Arya