The hip-hop mogul throws a charity bash at Barclays Center with Nicki Minaj, Alessia Cara, and more.

By Eric Renner Brown
Updated October 21, 2015 at 05:19 PM EDT
Mark VonHolden/Invision for HTC/AP Images

TIDAL founder and occasional rapper Jay Z threw a charity concert Tuesday night at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center with a lineup that, on first glance, could’ve been mistaken for a Top 40 playlist. For TIDAL X: 10/20, the hip-hop mogul assembled Beyoncé, Usher, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, T.I., Rick Ross, Nick Jonas, Meek Mill, and a host of smaller acts to raise money for the New World Foundation — and, ostensibly, to raise cachet for the nascent streaming service that just passed one million subscribers last month.

Despite the star-studded lineup, the concert never quite got its pacing right. Early on, a cavalcade of lesser-known acts like Queens rapper Bas and the French rockers Indochine barely registered on the audience’s radar. Regardless, with that much star power packed under one roof, some performances are bound to impress — and many did.

Alessia Cara rewarded the earlybirds

The 19-year-old Canadian upstart — who made waves this summer with her soulful single “Here” — easily kept pace with the A-list Tuesday night, rewarding fans who showed up on the early side with a soaring rendition of her signature song. Like most of the night’s first acts, organizers limited Cara to one song, but judging by the audience’s lukewarm reception to the next performer, Bas, she could’ve easily kept going.

Nick Jonas swaggered through “Levels”

Following a performance by the night’s sole country artist, Thomas Rhett, the former JoBro burst onstage to thunderous applause, tearing through “Levels” with rock star swagger. But then, in the event’s most inexplicable instance of a one-song limit, Jonas was gone, leaving befuddled concertgoers grumbling about the conspicuously absent “Jealous.”

Vic Mensa got rebellious

The young Chicago rapper brought a rebellious punk vibe to Tidal X that, while not unwelcome, didn’t mesh with the evening’s polished theme. Still, dude gets bonus points for wearing a “Corporate Slave” shirt at an event sponsored by HTC and held at an arena named after a multinational banking company.

Nas joined Usher for “Chains”

In the night’s most poignant moment, Usher appeared to perform his new, Tidal-released single “Chains,” which addresses police brutality and racial injustice. Usher, singer Bibi Bourelly, and a killer backing band decimated the stage, but the standout moment was Nas’ verse — his feud with Jay Z is long dead, but there’s still excitement in seeing the hip-hop legend perform at an event staged by his former rival.

Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé tag-teamed “Feeling Myself”

Election season is heating up, and thousands of concertgoers left the Barclays Center Tuesday night wondering why these two women can’t run the world. Minaj kicked off her scorching set with “Truffle Butter” and “Moment 4 Life,” before Beyonce and her dancers joined Minaj and her crew to collaborate on their recent 2015 single. The sheer gravitas the two share — plus their considerable performance chops — elevated the performance far above any of the others from the night.

Beyoncé guested on “Holy Grail”

Yes, a crowd watching Jay Z and Beyoncé perform together wants to hear “Crazy in Love.” Yes, in the absence of “Crazy in Love,” that crowd wants to see music’s first couple do any of their numerous collaborations. But Jay and Bey don’t play by the rules, and instead performed “Holy Grail,” the opening track off Jay’s 2013 album Magna Carta… Holy Grail that usually features vocals from Justin Timberlake. But predictably, the Queen Bey substitution was nothing short of excellent.

Jay Z closed the evening with “Empire State of Mind”

“This is the Brooklyn I like to hear!” Jay remarked as he patrolled the Barclays Center stage. The Brooklyn native understood the gravity of the night — performing a benefit concert by the company he founded in the arena of which he once owned a part, all in the neighborhood where he began his self-proclaimed rags-to-riches story — and finished the festivities in the only way possible: a powerful rendition of the New York anthem “Empire State of Mind.”