Jay-Z Plays Eight Shows at the Barclays Center
Hip-hop was born in the South Bronx, at DJ Kool Herc’s apartment complex on Sedgwick Avenue. But in the quick 30 years or so it’s taken for the genre to attain the highest status in mainstream American pop culture, Brooklyn has arguably had hip-hop's most impressive roster of innovators: Big Daddy Kane, Busta Rhymes, Mos Def, The Notorious B.I.G. Behind all the Staten Island flag-waving, most of Wu-Tang’s key members actually had Brooklyn childhoods. (Ol’ Dirty Bastard was from Fort Greene!) MC Lyte begot Lil’ Kim. MCA glamorized the borough on Beastie Boys records for impressionable suburban white kids, probably an underrated harbinger to the one million hand-wringing gentrification articles since. And then there’s Jay-Z, so famously born here, the favorite son who’s reached a summit of hip-hop success so high no one even knew it existed. He’s not just headlining the arena—he helped them pick out their forks.
On Friday, Jay-Z begins a remarkable stretch of eight sold-out shows at the brand-new Barclays Center, christening the arena as its first marquee performer. It’s not like stadium-level attendance is new to him. He’s headlined Coachella and Glastonbury. His sold-out show with Eminem opened the new Yankee Stadium in 2010, so it’s not like taking a New York landmark’s virginity is especially novel, either. Barclays' capacity is over 18,000, as opposed to Yankee Stadium’s 50,000 plus. But for the full run, that’s over 145,000 tickets, all of which sold out in a manner of minutes. And the stakes seem higher this time.
Because this week and next are not just about putting on the eight biggest shows of the year, or even the biggest hip-hop concerts of all-time, really. Jay-Z has been the Barclays Center's public ambassador. He owns part of its Brooklyn Nets and holds a unique influence over the team’s identity. He helped design its uniforms. He gives recruiting pitches to prospective free agents. He holds the title of director at Barclays, gives notes on the halftime music, on security procedures. He picked out the champagne in the $550,000 luxury suites. The arena sells his Roca-Wear clothing and houses his 40/40 nightclub. (You could also argue that his involvement effectively blunted the scope of community outrage over eminent domain issues.)
Vested interest in a venue this major has never been so tied to a single performer. That aforementioned 2010 show featured guest appearances from Kanye West, Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, Nicki Minaj, Drake, and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, among others. Is there any level of celebrity cameo that’s completely unthinkable at the opening of Jay-Z HQ? If Paul McCartney, Hologram Frank Sinatra, and President Barack Obama joined him onstage for a Grey Album version of “Hey Jude,” would anyone even blink?
The influence of a performer who just hosted a $4 million dollar fundraiser to reelect the President of the United States isn’t confined to entertainment or even business. Jay-Z isn’t just a rapper who’s found success in America. We’ve seen that before. Jay-Z is the face of modern American success. That feels new.