Jay-Z, International Arena, Cardiff
Wu-Tang Clan, Shepherds Bush Empire, London

Live performance was never the rapper's strong point, but he has confounded his critics by reinventing himself as a class act

How much significance can you read into a pair of glasses? A couple of weeks ago, Jay-Z turned up on the Jonathan Ross show studiously bespectacled, with the dress sense and demeanour of an amiable college-boy slacker rather than Roc-A-Fella CEO, rap megastar and bling-bling billionaire.

It was also one hell of a turnaround: the king of shopping- mall rap who has done more than anyone this side of P Diddy to cement the public view of hip-hop as a world of rapacious capitalism suddenly presenting himself as a cuddly intellectual, one of us.

He carried it off, just as – by common consent – he carried off his Glastonbury headlining set, which had the likes of Noel Gallagher in such an apoplectic tizzy beforehand.

The Jay-Z who shows up in Cardiff sure looks like the familiar bling-merchant: the hinges on his ever-present shades have more carats than Bugs Bunny, and the chain around his neck is more than merely goldie-lookin'.

Tellingly, Jay-Z had admitted to Ross that many rap acts make their initial breakthrough with one studio-forged track and, unlike rock bands, have no schooling in the art of the live show.

Indeed, last time I saw Jay-Z himself, he filled Wembley Arena with deadening thuds and bovine bellows. Not any more. He's learned a few lessons in the intervening years, and he's ready to deliver something that's only just short of a masterclass.

You have no idea how much it hurts me to say this. After all, I came to bury Jay-Z, not to praise him. This is a man whose main contribution to 21st-century culture has been to pop up on singles by Rihanna or Beyoncé, mumble lazily for 30 seconds or so and take a million-dollar cheque. (We get abridged bursts of "Umbrella" and "Crazy in Love" tonight.)

His excellent ensemble slide seamlessly between Latin hustle and funk-rock, incorporating teasing snatches of Amy's "Rehab", The Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up", Tribe Called Quest's "Bonita Applebum" and AC/DC's "Back in Black".

The high-speed interplay between the main man and his sidekick Memphis Bleek is often dazzling and, in the flesh, a track like "99 Problems" just cannot be argued with.

Just when you're wondering what the point of showing Damien Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull – one piece of bling the Jigga doesn't own – on the big screen might be, and cursing his audacity for name-dropping Public Enemy's Nation of Millions, he ties them both together in a passage about Hurricane Katrina.

A montage of American presidents freezes on the image of GW Bush, and Jay solicits boos, before rapping unaccompanied: "You're up on the roof/A helicopter swooped down with a telescopic lens/Just to get a scoop/But they didn't scoop you..." This time, the screen freezes on Barack Obama, and Jay-Z whips up the cheers.

From the high street to the hardcore. When the Wu-Tang Clan invite Londoners to throw their piece/peace in the air, it comes as a relief in the current climate that fingers and phones are all that are thrown.

But the mood inside Shepherds Bush Empire is pure joy, and not without reason. Assembling the main players of the Wu-Tang Clan in a studio – as Rza did for this year's first-class 8 Diagrams – is one thing, but getting them to put aside their differences and share a stage is quite another.

Cowled, scowling and overstaffed, the Staten Island collective looked a motley bunch when they dropped their astonishing debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in 1993, but 15 years later, each of these men is emperor of his own domain.

Cappadonna is absent tonight as, for obvious reasons, is ODB, but the original Wu are otherwise present and correct, if slightly chubbier (Raekwon) and balder (U-God).

If one Wu warrior carries this reunion, though, it's Method Man. From the moment he rips off his hood like a heavyweight boxer, Meth oozes pure charisma and keeps up a level of energy (eyeballing the front row and embarking on his famous crowd-walk) that shames his more lethargic colleagues into raising their game.

Outside the Empire, bow-tied Nation of Islam emissaries make token attempts to hawk the Final Call newspaper, resigned to the fact that – for all Rza's dire warnings about dealing with white "devils" on his new Bobby Digital album – the Wu have gone the way of all "heritage" hip-hop acts: their audience is now predominantly old, sensible and, well, Caucasian.

What's gone on inside is far more startling: 11 legends beating indolence and indifference – their own, as much as anyone's – to prove their mettle. Consider da m-f ruckus well and truly brought, once again.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz