Even during his supposed retirement, Jay-Z was still the biggest hip-hop artist around: a guest appearance became a highly sought-after commodity within the hip-hop world. His new album, reportedly titled Kingdom Come, is sure to be the biggest hip-hop record of the year.
The packed house is on its feet even before Jay opens with "What More Can I Say" from 2003's The Black Album. He then performs "Public Service Announcement", before being joined by his longtime hypeman Memphis Bleek for "U Don't Know", "99 Problems", "Hovi Baby" and "Is That Your Chick".
The nearly two-hour show really begins to come alive when the guest artists arrive. Nas runs on to the opening strains of "Made You Look", and performs "If I Ruled The World" and "Hate Me Now" before Jay returns for a symbolic handshake with his former adversary. Nas remains on stage to help out with "Dead Presidents". After Jay raps the first verse, Kelis's husband shouts the chorus that Jay sampled from his song "The World Is Yours", before performing the first verse from the same song. Hearing these tunes from the mid-Nineties is a reminder of just how long these two have been around. The fact that Coldplay's Chris Martin plays the famous piano sample live only adds to the sense of occasion. Gywneth Paltrow's appearance is the real surprise of the evening. She belts out the chorus to "Song Cry", showing off a surprisingly good voice. The crowd go wild again.
After Jay and Bleek perform a few more songs, it is Beyoncé's turn to dazzle. Backed by three dancers, she perfectly recreates all the moves from her "Crazy In Love" video, before she and Jay move onto a shortened version of her recent hit "Déjà Vu". While Beyoncé's moves during "Crazy In Love" are certainly impressive, her Tina Turner-esque dancing towards the end of "Déjà Vu" is truly a sight to behold. The fact that she moves so quickly in the highest heels only makes it all the more impressive.
After the tribute to hip-hop's dead artists (Biggie, Tupac, Big L, Jam Master Jay), Martin returns for the chorus of "Heart of The City (Ain't No Love)" and sounds soulful indeed. "Encore" lives up to its name, ending an amazing night.
This is the first time a major hip-hop gig has been held at the Royal Albert Hall. It's fairly likely that at least half of the audience is here for the first time. Jay-Z aptly comments on the opulent surroundings just before he performs "Hard Knock Life". Let's hope it starts a trend.