Before I left for London, my Pops asked for a second of my attention away from the television. “Have you been keeping up with The Newsroom this season?” An odd question, especially if you know my father. “Yeah, it’s alright.” I replied. “There was one where the director lady gave Maggie $100 right before she left for Africa. She told her that it was a tradition; you either came back with the $100 or with a story of how you lost it.” My pops then handed me $100, adding “I’d prefer the story.” Well Pops, here is that story.
A few weeks into my time abroad I discovered that one of my great loves in life, the one and only HOVA, would be playing in London the day after my birthday. This seemed like a gift from God. I could turn 22, convince some friends and/or a pretty girl to come see Jay Z with me, and party like I was three years away from being able to rent a car. It quickly became apparent that this plan would not come to fruition. I was totally fine with that – I have made great friends here, just not ones that are as ready to drop £75 on Jay Z tickets as I am. We celebrated my birthday in good fashion. I made cheesesteaks for everyone and we merrily drank whiskey. But HOV was still on my mind. The next day, October 10th I was at my internship with a few minutes to spare. I was tempted to bring up the prices of last-second tickets on StubHub, but knew it was a bad idea; no matter what amount they were, I would’ve justified buying the tickets because it was my birthday and I love HOV. I simply don’t have the cash to throw around like that. But I did have $100 for a story. And I was celebrating my birthday. And this YouTube video was playing in heavy rotation in my mind. So I went to the Google:
Okay. As long as I could find tickets under £62.66, I could semi-legitimately justify impulse buying a ticket to see Jay. It seemed like a long shot to me, as I would only get floor seats (I’ve seen HOV from the nosebleeds enough times) that were £76 at face value including online fees. StubHub loves online fees even more than TicketMaster, so I was thinking that my visit to explore potential tickets would be more of an exercise in entertaining my imagination as opposed to an actual buying experience.
I was mad wrong.
Not only were floor seats available, they were a) the cheapest tickets available and b) a full £26 pounds below face value including all fees. I was simultaneously giddy and suspicious. This had to be a joke.
It was not. Apparently people in London absolutely hate standing during concerts.
I bought my ticket, threw up deuces to my workmates, and listened to Jay Z for the next two hours of public transit.
When I arrived at the O2 Arena, I was amazed. They do not make venues like this in the States. Just imagine a hockey/basketball arena, but instead of crappy concessions stands surrounding the exterior rim, there is what I can only describe as a four-star mall. Actual bars, restaurants, and stores line the arena, allowing for attendees to get their pregame on right at the venue.
I however did not have time for pregaming. I had a GA Floor ticket and the doors had opened a half hour before I arrived. I had to claim my place in the crowd. It was now 7:30pm, my guess was the show would start at 9:00 or 9:30. As I approached the stage I quickly realized I would be much closer to HOV than I had anticipated. I only had to squeeze past a few elbows to find myself about ten rows of people from the stage.
I was home.
I spent five of my remaining £12 on a beer and stood my ground. At some point around 9:20pm, Jay Z took the stage and I started screaming like a 22-year-old man-boy that is way too excited to see Shawn Carter.
The beat dropped and Jay hit us with “U Don’t Know“.
Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
Those around me seemed to be having a good time, but I found that a frightening number of people were unfamiliar with his opening track and “On to the Next One” which came two songs later.
Just as I began to fear that my fellow audience members did not understand how to properly appreciate Jay Z, the sound cut out and the haunting piano intro of “Holy Grail” pierced the arena. Justin Timberlake’s voice echoed through the speakers.
And people lost their minds.
As I jumped and danced and screamed, “AND WE ALL JUST / ENTERTAINERS // AND WE STUPID / AND CONTAGIOUS” I realized that it was possible that Magna Carta Holy Grail was London’s favorite Jay album. This theory was only confirmed over the course of the next five songs:
“FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt” – Crowd goes crazy, I am fairly indifferent except for the “I just landed in Europe” part.
“Beach is Better” – I am the only person in the crowd who was not intimately familiar with this song.
“99 Problems” – I get to the second verse and I can’t find anyone to sing the cop part. NO ONE. So I start singing the cop part and I can’t find anyone to sing the Jay Z part. WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE? One of my favorite parts of any Jay Z show is yelling “I ain’t stepping outta shit / All my paper’s legit” in the face of a stranger.
“Big Pimpin’” – NO ONE WILL BOUNCE WITH ME. THIS SONG WAS MADE FOR BOUNCING. WHY WILL NO ONE BOUNCE WITH ME? I had no one to coyly laugh “We got chicks in the back of the truck, laughing it up / Jigga man that’s what’s up!” to, which broke a little bit of my heart. If you can’t tell by now, one of my favorite aspects of Jay Z concerts is yelling his lyrics in the faces of strangers. Same goes for Kanye West, Childish Gambino, and Matt & Kim.
“Picasso Baby” – Crowd goes wild again, just as I go silent. I have nothing against Picasso Baby. It’s a fine song, and I kind of dig that whole modern art thing HOV did with it. But the fact that people were bouncing to this song AND NOT TO THE AFOREMENTIONED “Big Pimpin'” was insanity to me.
Despite the crowd’s lack of respect for old school Jay, I was a happy camper. I was at a Jay Z concert in London and had just turned 22. Things were dope.
I let myself enjoy the show, waiting for the rest of the story to happen to me. This is a tactic that I grew pretty good at while abroad. I learned that usually, if you are patient, the exciting or breathtaking or noteworthy thing that you are hoping will happen, will happen.
And so I watched and waited, dancing and singing and holding up the ROC when necessary. “Dirt Off Your Shoulders” was good fun and I even dusted the dirt off of the shoulder of a cute girl standing next to me. She didn’t seem to mind, which I took as a great victory.
HOV closed his set with an amazing run of hits:
- “Niggas in Paris” (the craziest the crowd got all night)
- “Public Service Announcement” (the craziest I got all night)
- “Clique” (always a good time)
- “Run This Town” (the crowd was very down to sing Rihanna’s “Hey” lyric)
As Jay left the stage it was around 10:45pm in London. I had heard from someone standing next to me that the show would most likely end right at 11pm; apparently the O2 Arena has a rule about noise regulation and Jay would have to pay a $10,000 fine for every minute he went late. I do not know if this is true or not, but it makes for high drama.
When Jay returned for an encore I was ecstatic. He opened with “Encore” into “Empire State of Mind” and finally, to my great relief, he dropped “Izzo” on us and all was right with the world.
After spending ten minutes googling “crazy dancing .gifs” this is the closest the Internet comes to accurately depicting my mental and physical state:
Izzo is my favorite Jay Z song. It always will be. It is the opening track of his MTV Unplugged, an album that undoubtedly changed my life for the better. I was thrilled. And HOV didn’t ease up, leading us into “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)”, “Hard Knock LIfe (Ghetto Anthem)”, and finally “Young Forever”.
As “Young Forever” came to a close, Jay asked his backing band, who he lovingly called the Four Horsemen, to play the beat out as he worked the crowd. It was 11:02. For the next eight minutes Jay went from side to side thanking individual audience members for being engaged with the show. He’d holler at “the girl in the yellow up in the balcony, yeah you. I saw you dancing, thank you.”
And it felt real.
At 11:10 after thanking at least twenty individual members of the audience (none of which were me) HOV left the stage for good. The lights came up. I was left wondering if Jay actually owed the O2 Arena a $100,000 fine.
I doubt he did, but I also doubt that he would mind.
I waited in the pit as the crowd began to filter out into the night. I got up to the rail that had separated us from the stage. As the Four Horsemen left after HOV, I shouted after them hoping to gain their attention and subsequently acquire a setlist.
I failed. But as the crew took the stage and began to tear things down, I got the attention of the man who was disassembling the drum kit. I shouted and pantomimed “Setlist?!”
He shook his head.
I was dismayed.
Then he held up a finger as if to say “Hold on one moment…”
I was intrigued. I held on.
He pantomimed drumming. Then shrugged his shoulders.
“HELL YEAH.” I screamed.
A bouncer told me I had to make my way to an exit. I told him to be cool and that I would be out in a second. The crew guy came down and handed me a drumstick. This drumstick had been onstage only 2o minutes earlier, helping keep the beat to Izzo.
And now it was mine.
I had an end to my story, and I left the arena feeling the same way I always do after seeing HOVA: fulfilled.
So thanks Dad for making this possible and encouraging your son to do ridiculous things for his birthday like seeing rappers in foreign cities.
I think it’s in my blood.