Jay-Z is set to headline Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio. It’s a big deal because it’s the first time a hip-hop artist is the headlining act for the entire festival. From the LA Times profile of Jay the showman:
“All my early years? Forget it. I was a horrible performer,” Jay said, admitting he learned it the hard way from DMX during a co-headlining tour in 1998. “DMX tore me to pieces. I remember being stunned.”
“He had me really working. But I had to figure this out,” the rapper continued. “If you want to be a headliner, you better put on a headline show.”
I can attest to that. I saw Jay-Z live in Millersville University in Lancaster, PA, opening for KRS-One in 1997. Jay-Z was pumping the criminally overlooked Reasonable Doubt and In My Lifetime Volume 1. KRS was pumping the soon to be released hip-hop hit “Step into a World” from his album I Got Next.
Jay-Z’s performance stunk. I loved his music but he was an absolutely atrocious performer. Surprisingly bad. He was cool to the level of disinterested and relaxed to the point of seeming unpracticed. He seemed tiny in that small University gym. Then KRS-One came on and blew us out of the water.
By the time I saw Jay-Z live again, it was Live 8 in Philadelphia in 2005, the crowd was much larger, and he was a much better performer. He performed his hits as mash-ups with Linkin Park starting with “Public Service Anouncement” (“allow me to re-introduce myself my name is….”) peaking with “Big Pimpin” with what seemed like everyone present on the Ben Franklin Parkway backing him on vocals. He emceed instead of rapping. Huge change in quality. He’s grown immensely as a live performer which is a credit to his work ethic.