Heart of the City tour, featuring Mary J. Blige and Jay-Z review

Heart of the City tour, featuring Mary J. Blige and Jay-Z

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The Heart of the City Tour featuring Mary J. Blige and Jay-Z could have been named The Urban Couple's Dream Tour: cathartic, gut-wrenching songs of love and loss from Blige for the ladies, bouncing, hard-hitting anthems of hustlin', fame, money and women from Jay-Z for the guys. When they stopped at New Jersey's Izod Center on Friday the 28th, it was an unforgettable evening of empowerment for both genders.

The pairing of Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige dates back to "Can't Knock the Hustle," the first song on Jay-Z's first album, Reasonable Doubt. The pair have collaborated a number of times since (the tour takes its name from "Heart of the City," another of their duets), so it's only natural for them to unite.

After appropriately opening the show together with "Can't Knock the Hustle," Jay-Z slinked off the stage, returning only for a brief cameo in one of Blige's songs. She delivered a long list of songs about surviving love, whether falling in or out of it. Her set was full of drama, with Blige taking her voice to lung-crushing heights, becoming so emotionally wrought she knelt on the stage, and bringing out actors to reenact the lyrics of "Your Child," about a woman who discovers her man has fathered another woman's child. Blige proved she could handle a stadium-sized crowd and used this to her advantage as she led an audience (read: the women in the audience) sing-along of her Norman Whitfield cover, "I'm Goin' Down." Though audience sing-alongs have a frequent tendency to be just plain cheesy, it was one of the more memorable points of the night. Still, despite the immense work put forth on stage, it was hard to entirely get into the moment, largely because a stadium doesn't feel like the appropriate arena for Blige. The intimacy of her songs would be better suited to a theater.

After Blige's performance, a quick video was played wherein Blige and Jay-Z talk about the other's merits. In it, Blige uses two words to describe Jay-Z: "Brooklyn swagger." Anyone expecting otherwise from the wildly successful rap star and entrepreneur would have been disappointed.

Jay-Z took the stage with flash and class, opening with "Say Hello," which attempts to reconcile the man with his public identity: "Say hello to the bad guy / They say I'm a bad guy / I come from the bottom / But now I'm mad fly / They say I'm a menace / That's the picture they paint / They say a lot about me / Let me tell you what I ain't." The track is from his latest album, American Gangster, which saw a lot of play over the course of the night, with performances of "Pray," "No Hook," "Roc Boys," and "I Know."  But Jay-Z didn't leave his longtime fans hanging. Before performing "Can I Live," he dedicated the song to everyone who'd been listening since Reasonable Doubt. "This is our moment," he said. He also served up a number of favorites from The Blueprint, The Black Album, and Kingdom Come.

As anyone who's seen his live DVD, "Fade to Black," can attest, he did his usual series of theme songs ("IZZO [H.O.V.A.]," "Jigga What, Jigga Who," "Jigga That Nigga"), but any Jay-Z concert would have been remiss without them as a key ingredient to that Brooklyn swagger. Highly successful artist that he is, about two-thirds of the way through his set, he began flipping between song choices. Sitting in front of some sort of mock-up control board, he'd play a one-minute clip of one of his hits ("Hard Knock Life," for instance) then let the audience sing along for a bit before cutting it short and saying, "Fuuuuuuck that." He did this for five to 10 songs, a huge grin on his face, the kind of pleasure that can only come from knowing that whatever you play, the audience is going to eat it up. Ego-centric? Perhaps, but in a genre that's become about who can talk themselves up the most, Jay-Z's love for himself is tantamount to his identity -- and his success.

No Jay-Z concert would be complete without a guest of some sort, so Memphis Bleek made an appearance. In fact, the only disappointment of Jay-Z's set was that he only used Memphis Bleek once, since Bleek is another longtime associate who appears on a number of noteworthy jams.

Blige came out to sing with Jay-Z for "Song Cry," and of course, "Heart of the City," which served as the encore. As Blige sang, "There's no love / In the heart of the city / There's no love / In the heart of town," and Jay-Z asked, "where's the love?" it could have only been for show, for they had so clearly found it in the claps, chants, screams, and sing-alongs from the audience that night.

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