Jay-Z is not a humble man, nor should he be. A colossus of modern urban music, he has achieved a level of popularity in the industry and with all walks of the public unrivalled by his contemporaries. What was clear from his performance at London's Wireless festival was that he didn't scale these heights through charm alone.
The rapper was a distant paragon, with an on-stage demeanour that remained cool and aloof, and left a previously clamouring crowd slightly disinterested. There was nothing tangible to be annoyed with, however, with a comprehensive setlist that spanned Jay-Z's impressive back catalogue and incorporated a good 15 years of high-calibre hip-pop.
Opening with recent hit "Run This Town", Jay-Z launched into a set that was, of course, biased toward his latest album and which started about ten minutes late. In the annals of megastar-divadom this is no big deal, but the 10-minute countdown which flashed up seemed to put people's backs up – a reaction that Jay-Z probably wasn't expecting. Wireless isn't really the venue for nerve-tautening pyrotechnics or flashiness; people just wanted to sing along.
When an artist's back catalogue encompasses so many instantly recognisable numbers, you don't expect to stand through many indulgent moments, but Jay-Z remained impassive behind sunglasses throughout, and played quickly through curtailed versions of "99 Problems" and "Izzo" while lingering on more esoteric album tracks from the recently released The Blueprint 3. It seemed the perfect set-up for a gig aimed at die-hard fans, but less well-suited to the rather more diffuse crowd at a city festival.
That said, Jay-Z's performative bravado and righteous hubris are integral to his status, as is the coterie of artists that he has nurtured into superstardom – protégés Memphis Bleek and J Cole joined him on stage in Hyde Park, and added a sense of occasion previously lacking. From the opening strains of "Empire State of Mind" all was forgiven, though Jay-Z still didn't much look like he had warmed to us. Maybe he was homesick for his own "concrete jungle"; there was certainly none of the pro-London patter that American artists usually like to shower Brit crowds with – which, patronising though it may be, makes for a certain entente cordiale.