The Black House

Photo via DJ Clue on Instagram

Jay-Z officially opened Brooklyn’s Barclays Center last night, performing his ode to Brooklyn in the first of eight concerts in nine nights. Prior to the set, DJ Mister Cee played a full set of Brooklyn classics, including a mini-set dedicated exclusively to Biggie to pump up the crowd. We did it, Memphis Bleek crowed into Cee’s microphone. (First whiff of weed smoke came around that time. Hello Brooklyn.) When the lights cut out soon after, signifying time for the show to start, Roy Ayers’ “We Live In Brooklyn, Baby” played over the speakers as historical shots of Brooklyn flew through on the reflected screen. The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, 1870. The birth of Al Capone, 1899. Jackie Robinson’s first game, 1947. The release of Ready to Die, 1994. And of course, the introduction of the Brooklyn Nets, 2012.

Throughout his set, he stayed true to his word and shared the stage with no one, only allowing Brooklyn legend Big Daddy Kane (joined briefly by Scoob Lover & Scrap Lover) on solo during an odd section of the encore. He played a brief montage of Biggie songs, but skipped a hologram. There were no songs from his most recent album “Watch the Throne” with Kanye West; this was a tour through Jay-Z’s own discography, and the night was punctuated by songs from across his spectrum — he invoked Brooklyn and Billboard, playing both his top hits and his lesser-played “classics.” The place exploded on more than one occasion. It wasn’t hard to make happen. He didn’t play the song the Nets have based their campaign on, but the sentiment was nonetheless implied throughout the evening. The day had come. The Barclays Center, after years of legal battles and protests, was finally here, and here to stay.

This is the black house that Hov built, and he knew it. Welcome to my house. The exterior may be burnt, rusted orange, but the inside is all black everything. Black seats punctuate a black background. Black hallways fill with black Brooklyn shirts. Fog machines pumped nostalgia from black rafters, giving the entire arena a light haze reminiscent of an old film reel. When the lights cut out, Barclays Center cuts to black in a way the Prudential Center never did. The audience becomes night sky, constellations formed by smartphone screens and white camera flashes. Black entertainer Jay-Z strutted into a black stage to raucous cheers in a blacked-out arena, donning a black Brooklyn Nets jersey, as black-and-white shots of Brooklyn old and new looped on his black backing screen. The present is the past, and the future is the present. The show simultaneously inaugurated the Barclays Center and made it seem as if it had stood there for decades.

Bruce Ratner may have conceived it, Mikhail Prokhorov may have saved it, but Jay-Z sold it. His now-public stake of 1/15th of 1 percent in the Brooklyn Nets is hardly controlling, but the percentages never mattered. He turned an idea into a commodity, not on the details in his shareholder’s agreement, but on the back of his cultural capital. At times during the show, he merely stared out into the crowd, overcome with emotion, seemingly unaware what to think. He ran down his former addresses and babbled about his first meeting with Bruce Ratner in 2003. Holy shit, he said more than once between songs, otherwise at a loss for words. For seconds that felt like minutes, he’d silently stare down at the stage, as if he still couldn’t believe he was standing on it, or above at the upper levels, as if they could disappear into the fog at any moment. In a way he’d never been before, he was at home. Thank all of you, Brooklyn, for making me.

I’ve been on a lot of stages, all around the world. Coachella, Bonnaroo, Glastonbury. Nothing feels like tonight, Brooklyn. I swear to God.

A few extra notes:

  • On my walk over to the concert, the residential areas were quiet enough that one resident I passed by sitting on his steps was busy rolling a joint in public peace. (He was also wearing a Brooklyn Nets hat and t-shirt.) Once at the pavilion, the people waiting outside seemed oddly contained — the pavilion itself was a madhouse, but that madness didn’t seem to leak out beyond the Barclays Center platform.
  • Getting out of the arena was a different nightmare. Police and traffic officers were caught woefully unprepared to handle the influx of foot & automobile traffic, and cars were waved through red & green lights seemingly at random. I got stuck quite literally in the middle of Atlantic Avenue as cars whizzed past in both directions. Luckily, I escaped quickly and unscathed, though the surrounding area (Atlantic Mall in particular) was overrun with pedestrians.
  • Once away from the Center and into residential areas (I walked back to my apartment), the neighborhood seemed relatively quiet, save for a couple of groups of occasional yellers. By the time I’d walked beyond the Fulton-Lafayette convergence north of the Barclays Center, you wouldn’t be able to tell a major event with over 18,000 people in attendance had just let out two blocks away.
  • I saw a Miami Heat LeBron shirt and a Michael Jordan jersey, but no New York Knicks gear. (That may have been just my own vantage point. Any other concertgoers are free to correct.)
  • Most of the Nets attended the concert as well as numerous other stars, including Magic Johnson and John Calipari in a suite right above my seats. Brett Yormark (sometimes with twin brother in tow), celebrating a 45th birthday, made a few appearances in that suite.
  • This was my first Jay-Z concert, so I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect. As an iconic cultural moment, it was incredible. As a pure rap concert, I’ve been to better. As an exploration into Jay-Z’s humanity, it was startling.