Did you catch Saturday Night Live this past weekend? What a display of graceful aging and show-biz longevity! Oh yeah, and Betty White wasn’t bad, either.
I kid because I love. Jay-Z is hardly elderly, but rap is for the most part a young man’s game. His 40 years feel just shy of White’s 88 in hip-hop terms. That makes performances like the first one he gave on this week’s SNL all the more impressive. How is it that a guy who’s already retired and un-retired once, a dude who’s voyaged to the corporate boardroom and back, has so much more stage presence and vitality than any other rapper alive?
Jay-Z’s first SNL number was an abbreviated version of what he’s been doing in concert lately: a killer medley of hits, kicking off with 2003’s undeniable “P.S.A.” and making his way to “99 Problems” and “Empire State of Mind” (a duet with singer Bridget Kelly), with snippets of “On to the Next One” and “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” thrown in to tease us. Consider how many SNL musical guests struggle to make even one song work on live TV. Jay made it look easy, conveying each lyric with flawless force. The man is a master. I wish he could have kept the medley going for another ten minutes.
Later in the show, however, Jay-Z returned with “Young Forever.” Talk about a letdown. At Coachella last month, Jay managed to save this otherwise treacly tune by bringing out Beyoncé to sing the Alphaville-sampling hook. On record and on SNL, that chorus was handled by wannabe soul man Mr. Hudson, who, let’s just say, is no Beyoncé. The English crooner sounded uncomfortably hoarse; every time that hook came around, he’d reliably miss one big note in particular. The only thing that partially redeemed this snooze was when Jay-Z sweetly dedicated the song to “the most incredible Betty White.”
But, hey, that medley was really awesome! What did you think of Jay-Z on Saturday Night Live? Can you recall ever seeing such a gap in quality between a musical guest’s first and second performances of the night?
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