Jay-Z celebrated his return to the game with a seemingly impossible trek: seven 30-minute concerts around the country in 24 hours. He hit up Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and finished in Las Vegas early Sunday. The Associated Press was along for the ride with the recently unretired rapper, whose comeback album, “Kingdom Come,” will be released Tuesday.
5:15 a.m. EST — This is a time when if you’re a hip-hop star and one of the biggest celebrities in the world, you may be heading home from an exclusive private club or an after-hours A-list party. This is not the time when you start preparing for a concert.
But at this ungodly hour, Jay-Z is getting ready for the first in a series of concerts spanning both coasts — in a single day.
The first stop is Atlanta, where Hova was scheduled to give a concert at 6 a.m., when most people haven’t eaten their breakfast. The last stop is Las Vegas at 3 a.m. Sunday.
How will the Jigga Man do it?
6:15 a.m. EST — After waiting around for a bit, Jay-Z comes downstairs and we’re ready to go. We load in the car. Among the entourage are an MTV crew and Jay-Z’s main sidekick, Memphis Bleek. When asked how the crew rolls, Memphis Bleek jokes, “We roll tired.”
The energy kicks up as we head to Atlanta’s Centerstage for the first concert. There are at least 100 people waiting outside — they will not get in. There are a hundred more inside, already hyped for the early morning performance. Did these people even go home?
Jay-Z hits the stage, and the crowd flashes diamond signs. “ATL, what’s up?” Jay-Z says as he launches into a series of his hits, the crowd jumping along the way.
“First of all, y’all crazy,” Jay-Z says to the crowd. “I know I’m already crazy. But y’all crazy.”
He performs for about 30 minutes before leaving and hopping into a car escorted by police motorcade and loading into a luxury jet.
Next stop, Philly.
7:45 a.m. EST — The road trip has officially begun. Instead of a car, a G5 is the official caravan — a luxurious jet with cream-colored leather seats, a couple of couches and a wood table. There’s no safety demonstration, apparently assuming that when you’re on the G5, you’re not going to crash. And if it does, hey, you’re with Jay-Z, what better way to go?
Jay-Z relaxes on board, sunglasses still on, stretching out. But there won’t be much rest on this leg. MTV personality Sway begins to talk to Jay-Z about the end of his retirement. Phrases like “Michael Jordan” and “comeback” are used. Certainly it’s an apt analogy. Jay-Z has long been the MVP of the rap game, and his departure a couple years back left hip hop lagging in superstars, like when Jordan hung up his No. 23 jersey.
9:45 a.m. EST — Jay-Z’s superstar status is in full effect as he arrives in Philadelphia for show No. 2, and it’s not even 10 a.m. Once again, the venue is packed with hundreds of fans and the mere sight of the rapper gets the crowd riled up — so much so that Jay-Z doesn’t even need to recite a verse from “Big Pimpin”’ — the crowd does it for him. It’s a raucous performance.
Outside, two women are pleading to get a picture with Jay-Z. One is wearing stiletto heels, a tight skirt and a low-cut shirt.
As Jay-Z leaves the venue, one of the women bangs on a chain link fence and screams at him: “Jay-Z! Jay-Z! I’m your No. 1 fan!”
12:30 p.m. EST — The hardest part about the tour so far? Keeping together the multi-car motorcade, which now includes a few contest winners picked up along the way in each city to enjoy a day in the life of Jay.
(There are also two jets to carry the load. For the Philly to D.C. trip, the AP jumped on the second jet, almost as luxurious, just no Jay — but safety directions this time.)
In each city, the motorcade attempts to create a consistent single line, led by a police car, but is occasionally disrupted by the random clueless driver who cuts in, unaware he or she has just intermingled with a superstar’s motorcade.
The ride to the next stop, Howard University, is long and occasionally choppy. Things get a little chaotic once we arrive on campus. Almost 100 students are already awaiting the motorcade. At the stage where he is performing, about 1,500 students are eagerly awaiting the Hova. A marching band plays on the sidelines.
Once the concert begins, the crowd raps along to both his old hits and his unreleased material. Jigga acknowledges this is a download world and tells the crowd, “I know y’all already downloaded it ... but y’all gotta go and pick up the album on Tuesday.’
4:15 p.m. EST — If there’s a wall for Jay-Z to hit, he knows what leg it will happen on. “Chicago,” he told the AP aboard his jet. But so far, Jay-Z — who flew into Atlanta early Saturday morning — shows no sign of fatigue. He’s changed the color of the hoodie (now white) for his NYC performance, but that’s about all that’s changed.
Jay-Z still has the same energy he had at 6 a.m., maybe because he performed for his hometown. It looks as if more than 2,000 people have shown this time, at a pier off Manhattan’s West Side highway. “We started at 6 o’clock in the morning,” Jay-Z told the crowd, adding that each crowd was more energetic than the next. “Now we’re in New York (expletive) City, so this gotta be the livest show yet,” he said before launching into one of his new songs, “30 Something.”
8:30 p.m. EST — If Jay-Z hit the wall, he’s certainly not showing it. When he arrives at the Riviera in Chicago, he’s as animated as ever, pumping up the crowd, from the first line of the song, “Kingdom Come.” It is the only venue so far that is not packed to capacity, though it is almost full. There’s a little bit of breathing room for the fans, unlike the shoulder-to-shoulder experiences of the past two cities.
Whether Jay-Z took a cat nap or drank some Red Bull from New York to Chicago is unknown; the AP was unceremoniously booted to a third plane to accommodate the growing entourage. Wait a second — did we use the term “unceremoniously booted” to describe flying in a luxury jet with gourmet sandwiches and bon bons simply because we were not sitting next to Jay-Z? Clearly living the life of luxury has gone to our heads; and we’ve only been doing it for a few hours.
1:45 a.m. EST — We arrived in Los Angeles early. Everyone was tired. Even Memphis Bleek, the wisecracking comedian for much of the trip, has stopped making jokes and is sitting in the car, eyes half closed, waiting for us to head to the Wiltern, the last stop. The radio blares, advertising free tickets to another appearance in Los Angeles later in the week.
Everyone seems exhausted — well, make that almost everybody. “Y’all don’t feel the California weather,” says MTV personality Sway, standing outside our car in the balmy L.A. weather. “I’m rejuvenated.”
Soon, very soon, we head off. Everyone heads off in their cars — Jay-Z is in a separate car — when inexplicably we stop at a hotel bar. It seems we are too early for our L.A. gig and have time to kill. So Jay-Z saddles up to the bar and orders drinks for the entire crew, and the bartenders switch on ESPN so he can get an update on the Michigan-Ohio State football game. A few minutes later, a toast is made for everyone for surviving this far.
3:15 a.m. EST — We’ve been traveling with growing security all day, but this is the first time we’ve actually needed it. At the Wiltern, soon after J-Zay begins his set, someone jumps onstage — not a good idea. He’s immediately accosted, pinned down and thrown out of the building.
But who cares about a deranged fan — Beyonce is here. Dressed in a black babydoll dress, black leggings and heels, she looks stunning as always. She doesn’t get onstage to recreate any of the hits she’s had with her famous boyfriend. Instead, she and Destiny’s Child member Michelle Williams are offside to the stage, dancing along with the rest of the crowd, throwing up Jay-Z’s signature dynasty hand sign.
6 a.m. EDT — Last stop, Vegas. The city is sparkling as Jay-Z and friends touch down for the final destination. The last performance is to be at club Tao, and everyone’s energy level is back to 100 percent. Memphis Bleek is cracking jokes again and making plans for a betting table after the show.
Unfortunately, the last bash was the one the AP couldn’t see. The crush of humanity was so intense that even though we were behind Jay-Z, we got separated in the mash of the crowd and had to retreat to a safe haven — the backstage VIP area.
We missed perhaps the best show of the night. Although we couldn’t see, we could hear Jay-Z perform bonus songs such as “99 Problems,” which was not on the set list for the rest of the shows. We can only imagine how wild things have gotten inside the venue. But whatever happens, it can’t be as crazy as the past 24 hours: seven cities, one day and one superstar — Jay-Z.