Jay-Z at Vanderbilt's Memorial Gymnasium, 11/13/09

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Check out the slideshows for more photos: Jay-Z; Wale.

The Spin had a crazy week--starting with a broken mirror, involving a body in a dumpster and ending with a clutch cable that was, er, not so clutch--which derailed our plan of listening to every Jay-Z album in chronological order before his show at Vanderbilt's Memorial Gym. We made it as far as his 1996 debut Reasonable Doubt, but as the man himself said, "In order to survive, you gotta learn to live with regrets." Our biggest regret, as of Friday night, was that we didn't factor in the number of chicken-head undergrads who would be pulling some bullshit like, "It's under my mom's boyfriend's little brother's neighbor's name" in the will-call line. So we missed the opening set by D.C. rap phenom Wale while stuck in line behind Johnny Ballcap and His Magic Disappearing Credit Card Number, but based on all the text messages we got while waiting ("Dudes, are you seeing this?!"), we can safely assume that Wale was off the chain.

By the time we made it to our seats, which, incidentally, were below the general admission area and in the amplification netherworld known as Way-the-Fuck-out-of-Phase Land, we were able to let the crowd's enthusiasm usurp our curmudgeonly demeanor. The house wasn't quite packed, but gawdamn were the kids ready to get unruly--we're guessing nobody else was disappointed that the frosty beverages they bought at the concession stand didn't come in Jigga-branded souvenir cups. When the video screens turned on and began counting down the final 10 minutes before showtime, the house went ape shit--seriously, thousands of people went nuts at the sight of a huge fucking clock. As the final moments wound down and Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" cued us up for the one and only Mr. Sean Carter, it dawned on us how much we love Arena Rap. Sure, there's some bullshit to deal with whenever you try to get thousands of people through a handful of doors, but once you're there, it's on and on and on. The curtain went up, the band came out, and we saw that they had borrowed Queensryche's drum set and brought huge skyscraper-shaped video screens--we knew we weren't at Cafe Coco anymore. When the opening chords of "Run This Town" kicked off, we let go of our critical faculties and sat back to enjoy our generation's premiere entertainer.

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The thing about Jay-Z is that even though his albums of late have been sorta spotty, he is one of the coolest people you'll ever see onstage. His nonchalance is intoxicating--where an average performer will try their hardest to engage an audience, Jay-Z got his biggest reactions by stopping the band and simply standing there as the audience provided the verse, a cappella style. His b-boy stance screamed, "I know you know this, let see what you got," and the crowd wasn't shy about holding up their end of the bargain. When Jay announced that he had surpassed Elvis with the most No. 1 albums of all time for a solo male recording artist, it seemed like a generational triumph--we had beaten the boomers and righted the wrongs of pop cultures past. Our hero was the King and Colonel Tom rolled into one, and he had never gotten fat or crazy or sung anything nearly as awful as "Do the Clam." We win, the boomers lose, plain and simple. As Jiggaman said, "Elvis has officially left the building."

The earlier part of the set was heavy on The Blueprint 3, which we'll admit we probably need to go back and listen to again, while the later part was heavy on the classics, including a heavy-as-fuck version of "99 Problems" that saw skyscrapers of Marshall stacks pop on the video screens. There are thousands of rock bands in garages across this country that wish they could melt face like that. When it was time for "Big Pimpin' " Jay wasn't about to let the crowd off easy, stopping the track at the chorus to remind us, "That's Big Pimpin'--that's a cultural phenomenon," before dropping it again for crowd bouncing and in-unison chanting. The Spin even uncrossed our arms! When he launched into "Hard Knock Life," The Spin's week from hell almost bit us in the ass, but Young Buck was standing right in front of us, and we thought better of it. Crying behind Young Buck would have been decidedly uncool, even for The Spin. As Jay-Z finished out the night with a rousing rendition of "Forever Young" (not the Rod Stewart song, hallelujah) we thanked the proverbial Lord for Arena Rap. Fat guys in sequined jumpsuits could never rock us like this.

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