Leaving a roomful of people wild-eyed, bewildered and blown away
Jay-Z Live In New York

There’s something special about hearing a song dedicated to a certain place, a piece of music that’s synonymous with a city.

Jigga’s performance of ‘Empire State of Mind’ at Radio City Music Hall is one of those raised-hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck moments that will stay with those who witnessed it for a long time to come.

Here to announce the opening of the inaugural World Basketball Festival, a three-day city-wide extravaganza hosted by Nike and USA Basketball to celebrate everything about basketball and street culture, Jay-Z’s appearance is far more than a mere fanfare to kick proceedings off.

The social networking sites are abuzz with speculation as the doors to New York’s infamous Radio City open. Rihanna’s in the city! Kanye’s here as well. Will they Run This Town tonight?

The energy in the air is palpable as people from all walks of life come together to celebrate everything they love about the city that never sleeps.

Kids who’ve received free tickets through community groups at Hova’s request have travelled from all boroughs for the event, pouring in through the doors at the back of the imposing art deco theatre.

They rub shoulders with the great and the good from the worlds of basketball, film, music and fashion - Spike Lee and Alexander Wang to name but two – who’ve come down to get a piece of the action.

Following an unconventional support slot in the form of the USA basketball team playing a showcase game onstage, expectations are ramped up a notch as the large screens morph from scoreboards into a ten-minute countdown to show time.

As the time hits zero, the curtains raise to reveal an impressive set bathed in purple light, hosting the tightest band this side of the Pond.

They strike into the opening chords of ‘Hovi Baby’ as the man himself strides purposefully from the wings to take centre stage in the city he has known all his life.

Dressed all in black – natch – with shades hiding his eyes, there’s a faint glimmer of a smile as he launches into his opening rhymes.

The part owner of the New Jersey NETs reaches out to the clamouring front row, acknowledging the adulation emanating from below, before ‘Run This Town’ blasts forth. Sadly no Rihanna appears, but noone seems that bothered by her absence as Swizz Beatz runs on from the wings for ‘Onto the Next One’ and hypes the crowd.

For an artist who usually takes an hour to steadily ramp up the pace of his sets, this is a high-octane spectacle.

Jay-Z pumps through a mind-boggling ten songs in 30 minutes, a career-spanning greatest hits set list that could have lasted at least twice as long and still been all killer, no filler.

Memphis Bleek makes an appearance for the middle section, dressed somewhat bizarrely in a suit that looks like it could have come from the rack of Next.

And so we head for the home run, a couplet that form a paean to his hometown, starting with classic ‘Already Home’: “They want me to stop, they want me to go, I’m already gone, I’m already home,” he smiles as the music switches to Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York New York’, and Ol’ Blue Eyes’ face flashes up on the screens.

Suddenly the opening strains to ‘Empire State of Mind’ drop, with the backdrop flicking to an aerial shot of the New York skyline at night.

The iconic cityscape cruises along as Roc shouts out to Brooklyn, TriBeCa and the other areas that his life has been pinned to. Alicia Keys stand-in Bridgett Kelly skips out to belt out the familiar chorus, while the crowd frantically wave their diamonds in the air.

And so the performance is over as suddenly as it started, leaving a roomful of people wild-eyed, bewildered and blown away. If only he’d stayed for more.

Words by Laura Foster

Get a further insight into the cultural side of the World Basketball Festival HERE.

To see Jay-Z, Futura and the kids of New York in action, head to our photo gallery of the Nike and USA Basketball World Basketball Festival HERE.

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