Jay-Z : Hammersmith Po Na Na

The undisputed king of rap, holds off rioters to deliver a gig verging on perfection...

Everybody wants a piece of Jay-Z .

After tonight’s performance ended, we left the venue to find 20 riot vans, around 50 police with dogs and two main roads completely locked down.

Desperate to get into this hopelessly oversubscribed concert, some 200 people had rushed the doors of Po Na Na, ripped one off its hinges and then forced their way into the heaving throngs inside. Some say that one of the outlaw punters fired a firework rocket into the crowd and a couple of unlucky sods got their faces slashed by razor blade-wielding psychos. Ouch.

A lot luckier are the people are among the 50 or so who’ve managed to wangle their way onto stage.

On stage right there are 15 mini-skirted girl fans who gyrate their bodies around a table containing an ice bucket containing a bottle of Cristal. On stage left there are gangs and gangs of very tall young men who take it in turns to dance behindJay-Z, throw water into the crowd, smoke reefers and drink champagne while being very proud of themselves.

And why shouldn’t they be? The man they’re treading the boards with is one of modern music’s most extraordinary talents as well as the undisputed king of rap. DMX may be rap’s number one poster boy, butJay-Z. – once a street hustler from Brooklyn’s harsh Marcy housing project – is the black Frank Sinatra.

Without any help from the mafia, and aged just 30, Jay-Z (aka Sean Carter) has sold more than 12 million albums on his own Roc-A-Fell label and made more than $100 million from his Roc-A-Fella clothing line. He’s also (unofficially) written lyrics for other rappers on some the biggest hiphop hits in the last five years. If you’re a producer and you want some dope raps on your hit single, you call the Jiggman. The fact that he plays a small excerpt of Dr Dre’s ‘The Next Episode’ tonight is a sly nod to that fact.

Also accompanying Jay-Z. tonight is Roc-A-Fella CEO Damon Dash, the lateAaliyah‘s boyfriend. Two of America’s most powerful young black men, the pair give London the best rap show this monthly Tim Westwood-organised club night – if not London – has seen all year. After recent cancellations by Redman and shoddy, short sets by Sticky Fingaz and Master P, UK rap fans have been crying out for a proper, no-holds barred hip-hop hoedown.

Of course, Jay-Z delivers in style.

Unlike say, an Eminem concert, there’s no fancy backdrops, set-pieces, dry ice or laser beams to prop upJay-Z‘s songs, just two big black and white Roc-A-Fella logos projected onto video screens at the back of the stage.

Dressed down in jeans and with a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes, at first it’s hard to make Jay-Z out from the other 49 people on stage with him. When he grabs the mic and starts to rap, though, everybody else fades into the background.

Live, his raps are as crisply and fautlessly delivered on record. Of course it helps that 90 per cent of the crowd know every single lyric back to back to help him out on the choruses, but when Jay-Z is in full-flow, like with the Doors-sampling anti-Nas-tirade ‘Takeover’ it’s frightening. A lot of people came here expecting Jay-Z to come on at 2am and play four brand new album tracks for 20 minutes. Instead he comes on at 11.30pm and plays all his best songs and biggest hits for an hour. ‘Izzo (H.O.V.A)’, ‘Big Pimpin’, ‘I Just Want To Love You’, ‘Hard Knock Life’ and the huge street anthem ‘Jigga My Nigga’. He ends the final ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ somewhat abruptly, but that’s because the security teams are battling the hordes away from the doors and there’s a growing feeling that everything’s going to end in an hideous orgy of violence. Thankfully, it doesn’t. Perfect.

Andy Capper