Jay-Z and friends play “Powerhouse” concert

Andrew Whalen

When we study presidents we find that their terms can be clouded by war. As the new president of Def Jam, but most likely still its smartest soldier, Jay-Z was faced with the decision as to whether to engage his haters in the rap world in an all out verbal war or to reach out to old rivals in an attempt to build an improved coalition.

Leading up to this year’s Powerhouse Series, which began last Thursday night at the Continental Airlines Arena and concluded the next night at the Wachovia Center, Jay- Z led many to falsely believe war was on his agenda. He said on New York radio, “I declare war!” and added that “hard-headed rappers” could expect to be “put in the choke hold, the Boston crab.” He then added, “I gotta smash a couple people.”

Unfortunately, professional wrestling euphemisms have been few and far between when describing some of the tragedies that have befallen several artists in the rap community. Therefore, no one other than Jay-Z stood in a position where he could reconcile the deaths of his mentors by building a platform where both he, his protégées, the disenfranchised, the distant camps and ancient adversaries could all perform for the betterment of society.

As East coast hip-hop heads discovered on Thursday night, reconciliation is an incredible thing. Powerhouse was billed as a Jay-Z and Friends performance, but what occurred inside can only be described as the greatest rap show on earth. The only people who weren’t there were Biggie and Pac.

The sold-out arena eagerly waited for the concert and name-calling to start. The last time Hova had beef with legendary MCs, he produced pictures of Mobb Deep in ballerina costumes as children and unleashed a vicious diatribe against Nas on street records.

In response, Nas went as far as to burn an effigy of Jay on stage. Tonight, the crowd believed Jay was set to attack either 50 Cent, Game or Cam’ron.

Jay-Z had larger aspirations, though. These were revealed when the curtain parted and Jay-Z sat in the Oval office flanked by Secret Service. Jay jumped up and addressed the legions with “Public Service Announcement,” an appropriate song from his final studio album. The Swiss Beatz-styled “Jigga my N-a” followed. The fans were at a fevered pitch obscenely early. Jay told the crowd they still didn’t understand, that “This is my house. I own the Nets.”

Following a backstage suit shedding, Jay returned to the stage to rock several of his more popular club anthems such as “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It To Me).” Jay backed off momentarily to allow R&B pop singers Teairra Mari and Ne-Yo to promote their new singles. Jay came back afterwards to “Bring ’em Out.” T.I appeared and had the packed house chanting along to his Jay-Z sampled single.

T.I. did a quick solo set before introducing a friend of his own, Young Jeezy. The southern collaborators performed “Bang” from Young Jeezy’s record. The six degrees of separation couldn’t be any more apparentas Akon then eased on stage to the pleasing sounds of “Soul Survivor” with Young Jeezy.

Refusing to be outdone, Jay came back again to team up with Jeezy for the soul-searching “Go Crazy.” This song proved more than any other that Jay’s influence is felt in all corners of pop culture; the performance also concluded the first act. Jay had performed crowd pleasers and shown his ear for upcoming talent. No one ever doubted his ability to do this before. What the crowd was wondering now was, “Where’s the war?”

Act 2 saw Jay introduce members of his OG Roc family: Memphis Bleek, Freeway and Peedi Crakk. This lineup has long been considered one of the strongest in rap music, but their unity has recently been brought into question following the Jay-Z/Dame Dash/Rocafella Records dissolution. There was no interrupting their flow as the superstars ripped though “What We Do,” “Flipside,” and “Is That Your Chick.” Jay-Z then halted the group to ask the crowd if it seemed like someone was missing. The crowd knew instantaneously what that meant. Appearing to chants of “Beanie, Beanie,” the Philly lightening rod Beanie “Mac Mittens” Sigel ran out dressed in all black and a hood.

The reunited Roc kept the greatest hits coming, repeatedly stunning those in attendance. Sigel and Jay’s solidarity, however, paled in comparison to what Jay still had hidden in the wings. Jay officially buried the Rocafella/D-Block riff when he then introduced the LOX to help him and Sigel perform “Reservoir Dogs” from “Volume 2: Hard Knock Life,” Jay-Z’s biggest selling record.

After the song, Jadakiss, Styles and Sheek took center stage for some old time hits of their own. The familiar sounds of “All About the Benjamins” had concertgoers reminiscing of hip-hop’s glory days, when Biggie was king of New York. LOX must have thought the same thing, because Jadakiss stopped the DJ, telling him he had to do this properly. At that moment the consummate showman Puff Daddy popped out a window in the Oval office to prance the song off right. You may remember LOX had blamed Diddy after Biggie’s death for softening their image and hurting their career. At this point, however, anything was possible, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the ghost himself.

Instead, Kanye West, one of a few new rappers capable of reciting B.I.G.’s complex lines, did a surprise solo set. Despite his unmatched momentary mainstream appeal, Kanye was almost lost in the shuffle of larger artists and improbable reunions. Perhaps inspired by Kanye’s theosophical musings, Jay reclaimed the stage alone to quiet the crowd who was chanting like pagans in the Coliseum, “We want war!” Jay sternly said, “All that beef @$#* is wack. We in this together … Let’s go, Esco!”

At that moment, Nas appeared above the stage and ran down from the risers to join Jay. The two stood side by side as a deafening crowd roared for several minutes without pause. The living legends basked in the appreciative aura before performing for the first time ever the Nas-sampled “Dead Presidents” from Jay-Z’s monumental first album. Jay-Z then allowed Nas a solo turn with several classics of his own, including “N.Y. State of Mind” from the groundbreaking jazz-riffed “Illmatic.”

You know Diddy couldn’t leave this party alone, so it was no surprise when he appeared to assist Nas on “Hate Me Now.” Jay and Nas ended their set together with a raucous “Made You Look Remix,” before all of Jay-Z’s friends and fellow performers rushed the stage to conclude with a collective “Encore.”

This was one of the hottest concerts ever. With so much peace and love going around you might call it the hip-hop Woodstock. Beef was buried, and ten years of classic rap was unearthed. While there is much speculation about the genre’s future, and much sadness remains for those fallen behind, Jay-Z demonstrated that a powerful global leader like himself best serves both his and the people’s purposes when he maximizes his music family and minimizes his dissenters. Hopefully this show will be released to the world at large, but if not, don’t be surprised to see copies for sale on certain city streets.