"H to the izz-O, V to the izz-A/ For shizzle my nizzle used to dribble down to VA,” Jay-Z maintains on his rousing anthem “Izzo (HOVA)”. The nizzle does feel shizzled at this sizzling, three-day urban festival.
Wireless' new venue is located in a gravel pit with unspeakable burgers and a scary fairground ride. It's not always pretty but Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, who performs on all three nights, is a godsend.
Tottenham's nimble lyricist Wretch 32 is an early highlight of this celebration of R&B and hip-hop, particularly on caustic “Traktor” where he beseeches “But you'll never catch me on a Jeremy Kyle Show.” The hordes of Ke$ha lookalikes relish “Your Love Is My Drug” and Virginian Trey Songz is met with a filling-shattering wail for his determinedly lewd R&B.
It's left to the inimitable Snoop Dogg with “Let's Get High”, “Who Am I (What's My Name?) and ”Drop It Like It's Hot“ and the beguiling Frank Ocean (both acts are bafflingly scheduled to perform at the same time) to energise the first day. Headline act Justin Timberlake is predictably slick, mixing Michael Jackson balladry with a smattering of Prince-influenced smut.
Saturday's better, with Chicago's disco maestros Earth, Wind and Fire opening with an absurdly short 40 minute slot at 1pm. However, Philip Bailey and his 11 compatriots gamely belt out the deeply funky “Boogie Wonderland”, “Fantasy” and “September”. Later in the day Rita Ora impresses with her robust vocals on “Roc the Life” and “How We Do (Party)”, while Emeli Sande, in her trademark blonde mohican, delivers blandly proficient soul. It's left to Jay-Z to entertain with “99 Problems” and the Sesame Street-like “It's a Hard Knock Life”. “I'm so excited,” claims the squillionaire. He doesn't look it, but this is a polished set capped off by a duet with Justin Timberlake on “Holy Grail”.
Sunday's best. By far. A$AP Rocky, the brilliant, belligerent (he packs a pistol, pops various things), weed-loving rapper from Harlem is a huge crowd pleaser with “Fashion Killa” and “Wild for the Night”. The 24-year-old is followed by veteran Nas, the poet of Queensbridge's latest record was an articulate expression of midlife crisis. He's greeted by a massive roar and it's a pity the 39-year-old doesn't join his old foe, Jay-Z, later for the “Legends of the Summer” finale.
Other veterans A Tribe Called Quest prove they can still kick it before the festival's heavyweights - Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake - see things out, taking turns playing hits, and welcoming Rihanna on “Run This Town”. For three days Jay-Z has owned this challenging venue.