First Night: Jay-Z, Roundhouse, London


Hova swaggers into the mainstream

For Jay-Z, 2008's Glastonbury stunt was just the prelude. It was a cocky act of clout intended to broaden the rapper's clientele in the way it seemed only white rockers could.

But success of that show came down to what Jigga became famous for, and that's the omnipotence of his songs, often bristling with stellar production, witty rhymes and always sounding 10-times more supreme when backed by a band. Last night, he chose the intimacy of Camden's Roundhouse to re-affirm his acclaim and it's obviously a smart ploy to keep the fans close and connected.

As a clock on stage counts down 10 minutes until his arrival, the anticipation is palpable and the mainly male crowd roars, instantaneously raising their diamonds in the air. When he strolls onto the stage at the stroke of 10.25pm, dressed head to toe in black and with his signature shades on, he gets straight into "DOA (Death of Autotune)" with little intro, but plenty of gusto, backed by a thundering 11-piece band. This is swiftly wrapped up with pleasantries, and he gushingly thanks the crowd that the gig sold out in 20 seconds.

Follow-up "U Don't Know", accompanied by sidekick Memphis Bleek, is a ferocious, heavy-metal slap that storms around the venue, then it's the classic "Roc Boys", with sees the rapper announce, "the Roc Boys are in the building tonight!", before he soaks up another round of ecstatic applause.

What instantly stands out is his charisma and charm, and in most cases, Jay-Z leans heavily on these qualities when he performs, rather than dabble in a bit of choreography, as believe it or not, rappers do and can dance. It's all about working the stage with "the swagger". Call it the Jigga skank, an aloof albeit consistent pace which proves that unless you're Kanye West or Lil Wayne, a rapper's physical performance will always shy on the safer side of two-stepping and Jay-Z won't be the exception anytime soon.

So far, the only minor concern is that while he's frontloaded his rocky set with his greatest hits, from "What's My Name" to to "Dirt Off Your Shoulder", there's very little chit-chat, and it never hurts to share a bit of banter when you've got a new album to shift. The Blueprint 3's mission seems to be intent on setting the rapper up into the upper echelons of musical credibility and while it's not without flaw, it's still rocks with Hova's signature wit-fuelled lyrics of condescending pomp. But if there's ever a moment he breaks into a sweat, it's while he rolls out the triumphant "Empire State of Mind" and his head-nodding goes to a whole new level.

Jay-Z's shortcoming is that he falls into that trap of the "going-through-the-motions" sameyness. It could be an age thing, but in spite of the methodical order, you can't deny a good hip-hop song or the odd surprise, like the prolonged spin of Oasis's "Wonderwall".

Jay opts for more good oldies in the final quarter, like "Money Ain't A Thang", "Excuse Me Miss" and "Lucifer" but "Big Pimpin'" doesn't see him being as cock-sure as he used to be. But at least he's professional and courteous, explaining that he hoped to give the crowd their £70's worth.

So if this entire night weighed on the final track "Encore" and his recognition of the people that have kept his career alive for the past 13 years, it might not have been the most mind-blowing of shows, but it's undoubtedly been worth it.

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