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After four years away from solo life,
H.O.V.A.'s still on top of the throne

Jay Z
United Center
Chicago, IL
January 9, 2014
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Story and photos by Andy Argyrakis

The last two times Jay Z hit the road, he was flanked by Justin Timberlake and Kanye West respectively, leaving many to question if he was still capable of pulling in similar numbers solo. After all, the rapper/producer/all-around entrepreneur is 44-years-old these days and hasn't exactly had the best publicity as of late, starting with the blatant corporate sponsorship of his latest album "Magna Carta Holy Grail." But just because the Shawn Carter from the streets is whole a lot different than the Jayonce of today didn't mean he lost any rankings in the game, as evidenced by a just shy of sold out United Center.

Cheekily titled "Magna Carter," this first individual tour in four years was fueled by sheer showmanship, and some of the most contagious rap and hip-hop to ever hit the airwaves, peppered with an unexpected personable side and a socially urgent message. Taking full command of a stage made of exposed scaffolding, Jay Z and his four piece band unloaded classic and current tracks at lightening speed, charging through "U Don't Know," "Crown" and "On To The Next One" like a newcomer half his age.

The always ready to throwdown crowd came absolutely unglued by the oldie "99 Problems," roaring all the more with a shout out to hometown hero Kanye West during their collaborative cut "No Church In The Wild." Of course, the "Yeezus" rapper and many of Jay Z's other all-star album guests didn't appear in the flesh, but even taped appearances by Timberlake on "Holy Grail," West and Rihanna on "Run This Town" or Alicia Keys on "Empire State Of Mind" were accepted with open arms alongside the unwaveringly charismatic headliner.

One of the more spontaneous moments came during the encore when Jay Z signaled out a few fans in various sections at random to personally thank them for attending. A 19-year-old named Monique clutched a poster asking to rap on stage (apparently she did at a previous show three years earlier) and her hero not only obliged, but completely handed over the mic for the hopeful to boldly offer a freestyle and solicit herself for a record deal.

The mogul took it all in stride and asked her to leave contact some information, but he quickly took charge once again come the monster hits "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" and "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," turning the continuously escalating momentum up yet another notch. The grand finale "Young Forever" adapted a more contemplative tone, starting out as a tribute to Nelson Mandela and ending as a plea to locals to stop the violence in "ChiRaq" to ensure the lives of future rappers (and possible presidents) aren't in unnecessary jeopardy. While the powerful plea showed off an older and wiser side of the veteran, the prior two hours of hysteria confirmed Jay Z can still connect with his craft as he rightfully reclaimed the solo throne.

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