“Can’t leave rap alone, the game needs me,” boasted JAY-Z on his 2001 hit “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” And those words still rang true 16 years later, when he delivered them last night during his headlining set at the sixth edition of the Budweiser Made in America Festival that he founded in 2012. Returning to the stage for his first concert performance since releasing his excellent new album 4:44 in June, the hip-hop heavyweight came out swinging in front of the Rocky Steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, bobbing and weaving through a string of hits which demonstrated that he possesses arguably the best catalog in the rap game. As he gets set for the 4:44 Tour that launches next month, JAY-Z — looking fresh and youthful at 47 — proved that he is still one of the best live performers in hip-hop. Here are six highlights from his festival-closing show.
1. Going Hard with Damian Marley
JAY-Z got his set off to a banging start with “Bam,” his 4:44 collaboration with reggae royal Damian Marley, who joined Jigga on stage for this jam-rocking opener.
2. The “Empire” Strikes Again
It may have been Philadelphia, but you could have sworn it was New York from the way that the audience showed love for “Empire State of Mind,” belting out the chorus so loudly that you hardly missed Alicia Keys. You could probably hear it all the way over in the Big Apple.
3. “The Story of O.J.”
After last month’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia, the lyrics to this 4:44 standout — with its pointed look at race relations — resonated even more powerfully as Jay delivered them in the birthplace of America after giving a shout-out to the late activist Dick Gregory, who died last month.
4. “Happy Birthday, My Love”
Although Beyoncé did not make an appearance during her husband’s set — unless you count her recorded vocals on the 4:44 highlight “Family Feud” — JAY-Z got the crowd to give a b-day serenade to Bey, who turns 36 on Monday, by singing both the traditional “Happy Birthday” and the Stevie Wonder version.
5. Remembering Chester Bennington
JAY-Z paid poignant tribute to the late Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington — who died by suicide in July — by performing the mash-up of “Encore” and LP’s “Numb” that he did with the band on their 2004 collaborative EP, Collision Course. “Let’s just go full rock star on ’em tonight,” he said, capping his Rocky Stage performance with an emotional punch.
6. A Stage-Switching Finale
After seemingly ending his show and sending the crowd heading for the exits, JAY-Z delivered what he described as the “illest encore” by magically reappearing on the Liberty Stage for an encore that included “Hola Hovito,” “I Know,” and “Allure” as well as a crowd-pleasing appearance by Philly rapper Meek Mill performing his own “Dreams and Nightmares.”