DALLAS -- Last I checked, Jay-Z doesn't have anything left to prove.
Thirty million (and counting) albums sold, 16 top 10 hits, 10 Grammys, an army of proteges and a superstar wife; the man born Shawn Carter is one of rap's biggest, brightest stars, who could have retired knowing that he did his part to change the face of hip-hop. Retirement did come, briefly, in 2003, before 2006's comeback record, Kingdom Come.
As Jay-Z tore through a nearly two-hour set Tuesday night at American Airlines Center, it was easy to see why he couldn't give up the game. At age 40, he's still one of the sharpest tongues around, grinding it out like a kid in search of a record deal. Whether spitting classics like Big Pimpin' or fresh smashes like On to the Next One or Empire State of Mind, the Brooklyn native breathed fire all night long.
The crowd was into it from the opening notes of Run This Town. As those in the audience threw their diamonds in the sky and shouted just about every song back at the frequently grinning MC, the room felt astonishingly intimate yet electrified by the kind of atmosphere only an arena show can muster.
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Indeed, Jay-Z perfectly matched the soaring space with a brash set list stocked with plenty of tracks from last year's (perhaps unfairly) maligned The Blueprint 3. For nearly 45 minutes, until Young Jeezy took the stage for a 30-minute "intermission," Jay-Z reeled from cut to cut, refusing to pause for so much as a "'Sup Dallas?" Joined occasionally by hype man Memphis Bleek, Jay-Z otherwise roamed the stage alone, clad all in black and backed by sleek projection screen pillars. The second half of his set, which featured a masterful medley, equaled the first in intensity and verve.
And what a dazzling display, visually and aurally: During Hovi Baby, the airtight nine-piece band (dubbed the Roc Boys) dropped out, leaving Jay to fling rhymes a cappella (a trick he repeated).
The year is still young, but we'll still be talking about this tour de force come December. While this product of Bedford-Stuyvesant may have it made, he left no question why he's the best.
PRESTON JONES IS THE STAR-TELEGRAM POP MUSIC CRITIC. 817-390-7713