How Jay-Z’s headlining set at The Meadows proves he can still hold his own against hip-hop’s new stars

The rapper made his return to New York with a career-spanning set and some wise words

It’s been 16 months since Jay-Z last played in his hometown of New York, but even in just that time the hip-hop world has promoted a new raft of stars to the upper echelons. Some of them are on the bill today – like Migos, whose mid-afternoon set could be a lot later and higher up the bill after the runaway success of ‘Bad And Boujee’. On new album ‘4:44’, Jay-Z proves on record that he’s still got what it takes to be considered a great of the genre and stay ahead of the young blood, but what about performing.

Tonight, the rapper headlines the first day of The Meadows, the festival held at the New York Mets’ ground, Citi Field, and proves that on stage he’s doing just fine too. More than fine, in fact – his night-closing set is a masterclass in simple, but effective performance. The flashiest thing about Jay’s set-up is a giant, inflatable dog that looks like it could be a Jeff Koons piece (or at the very least is closely modelled on one. The rest of his 90 minutes on stage, he let’s the music do the talking and, boy, does he come out swinging on that front.


Where others might open with newer tracks, Jay-Z has no time to mess around. Instead, ‘Run This Town’ kicks things off, moving quickly into ‘No Church In The Wild’. ‘Bam’ sees his only guest of the night join him on stage, Damian Marley sticking around for a run-through of his own track ‘Welcome To Jamrock’. Five songs in and the set already feels like a classic, but as our entertainer tells us after ‘Lucifer’, “We’re just warming up”.

Jay, wearing a Beatles ‘Help!’ t-shirt, barely pauses between songs, swaggering up and down the stage, effortlessly causing chaos in the crowd in front of him. ‘Empire State Of Mind’ has everyone bouncing, while ‘Watch The Throne’ cut ‘N****s In Paris’ lifts things another ten notches, even when that didn’t seem possible.

Another mark of a great is the ability to make you feel as well as make you dance. As his time begins to run out, Jay-Z stands at a mic stand for the first time all night. A solemn look on his face, he asks for the stage lights to be turned all the way down and for the crowd to put the lights on their phones up. Stood before a twinkling mass, he introduces ‘Numb/Encore’, his collaboration with Linkin Park. “I need you to sing this so loud he can hear you all the way up in heaven,” Jay says, referring to Chester Bennington and his tragic death earlier this year. The crowd obliges for what is the most spine-tingling moment of the set, while the rapper stays rooted to the spot, looking like he’s ruminating on life. As if to confirm that, he closes the whole night with a burst of his 2010 single ‘Young Forever’. The mood is still sombre, but it’s a more uplifting end to a sublime example of artistry, and the moment Jay-Z reclaims his crown from any young pretenders.

Jay-Z played:


‘Run This Town’
‘No Church In The Wild’

‘Welcome To Jamrock’
‘Where I’m From’
‘Marcy Me’
‘Empire State Of Mind’
‘Family Feud’
‘U Don’t Know’
‘Heart Of The City’
‘The Story Of OJ’
‘N****s In Paris’
‘Izzo (HOVA)’
‘Jigga My N***a’
‘Dirt Off Ya Shoulder’
‘On To The Next One’
‘Give It 2 Me’
‘Big Pimpin”
’99 Problems’
‘Hard Knock Life’
‘Young Forever’