Jay-Z came home to the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Friday night, for the first show of a sold-out eight-night run in this new rusty bunker that will house the Brooklyn Nets, a team that he owns a small piece of, and for which he is the unofficial ambassador.
For almost two hours, Jay-Z was essentially alone on stage; his band played on risers jutting out from the 45-degree-angle wall behind him. Wearing a custom black No. 4 Brooklyn Nets jersey that read CARTER, his last name, he drew upon almost two decades of Brooklyn-friendly anthems, songs that long been hits, but had still been waiting for a home-borough debut of this scale.
There was a heavy but not overbearing police presence on the surrounding streets. At the very end of the show, Jay-Z showed off some of the cynicism that sticks with people who grew up on the wrong side of power, urging the crowd to be peaceful on its way out. “You know they waiting for us to” make a mistake, he said, using rougher language.
Jay-Z also did not wait long before acknowledging the Notorious B.I.G., who was killed in 1997, a superstar who still had pinnacles yet to reach. Jay-Z led the crowd in rapping his hits “Kick in the Door” and “Juicy,” pausing for emphasis on that song’s celebratory boast: “Spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way.”
And that is what he did, over the course of the night mentioning specific addresses he had lived at — 560 State Street, 534 Flushing Avenue — and insisting he was not any “different than anyone in here tonight.”
That was the unexpected charm of the show, which was but one in a long line of self-coronations for Jay-Z, but which felt like a community gathering. His biggest accomplishment was making something momentous feel utterly normal.