Jay Z puts Tidal on his shoulders during a special 2-night engagement

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Since I started writing about music in the 2010’s, I’ve seen some pretty crazy moments. I was there when Q-Tip brought out Kanye West for a crowd of a few hundred people in Brooklyn. I caught Outkast on their reunion tour (twice). I was throwing diamonds up with a bunch of people in Brooklyn Nets snapbacks when Jay opened up the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. When Kendrick Lamar brought out 50 Cent right around the time GKMC went platinum. The Young Money takeover at last year’s Summer Jam. At one point I tried to rank them, but eventually gave in. They’re all so special in their own right, it would be silly to pretend one is better than the other.

After last night however, that rule may have to change. Slightly.


All month people have been talking about Jay Z‘s two-night B-Sides show, billed as the one time he’ll dig in his crates and perform the records he rarely or never performs. It quickly became the hottest ticket in town, and a must-attend for true Jay fans. Sure, the arena crowds dig “I Just Wanna Love You” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” but do they know “Young, Gifted & Black” word for word? Do they remember his infamous “Grammy Family” freestyle, for which there’s no official mp3? I can still hear Funkmaster Flex dropping bombs all over the intro.

Hov: Say when
Flex: When
Hov: Inspired by Basquiat...

This was the type of show fans were treated to last night.This wasn’t the glossy Jay Z that had Oprah “out in Bed-Stuy, chillin’ on the steps,” then rapped about it on his pop-oriented Blueprint 3 album. In fact, he didn’t perform a single track off that album. There was no “Empire State of Mind,” or “Death to Autotune”. This was the Jay Z that wasn’t entirely sure if he wanted to become a drug kingpin or “do music.” As DJ Clark Kent illustrated on Instagram, there was a time when Jay Z had to be convinced that this was the life for him, and it was time to bid the streets farewell. If anything, the only real stage design was a huge neon “95 South” sign hanging above the stage, signifying the freeway that Jay Z took back-and-forth to Virgnia, making moves imperative to the life he lived pre-Roc-A-Fella. Pre-Grammy Awards. Pre-Tidal.

Ah, yes, Tidal. The elephant in the room. The Swedish streaming service that Jay Z relaunched in March, much to the dismay of Spotify, Beats Music, and others. Well, they’ve never admitted that, but let’s be honest. Jay Z relaunching Tidal is the equivalent to Dr. Dre hooking up with Monster to make Beats by Dre. The good folks at Bose probably lost their shit.

Okay, Monster's got Dr. fucking Dre selling their stuff, who do we got?
Bob Maresca

The fact of the matter is, big businesses and corporations are quickly learning that being cool is the new currency. No one cares if Bose has figured out a way to deliver “better sound through research,” when Dre’s got the new Beats headphones and app in that YG and Drake video that everyone will try to recreate when the weather picks up. With March’s over-the-top (and somewhat confusing) Tidal reveal, Jay Z was presumably hoping the same concept proved true for his venture. Nicki Minaj, Madonna, J. Cole, Daft Punk, Beyonce. The Tidal reveal looked like the Grammy’s red carpet. It wasn’t surprising when, just a few weeks later, media outlets began lauding the streaming service as an early failure. The people weren’t going to let Madonna put her gazillion dollar leg up on a table and convince them to spend $20 a month on music. Something was needed to bridge the gap.

There were none of Jay Z’s pop-star conglomerate buddies on stage with him last night. Beyonce sat in the sound booth, drinking from a grapefruit-sized glass of wine, cracking jokes with her security guard, but didn’t touch the stage like many had hoped. Jadakiss chatted up Power 105.1’s Gee Spin at the bar. Carmelo and LaLa Anthony watched the show a few feet from Beyonce and Questlove. Instead, it was the guys that helped build the dynasty that still stands tall today rapping alongside the man that put them on the world’s stage. Beanie Sigel. Freeway. Neef Buck. Young Chris. Memphis Bleek. Jay Electronica. These guys don’t have a bunch of Top 40 hits, awards or celebrity girlfriends. Just bars.

To articulate that point, shortly after paying his respects to Chinx, the fallen Far Rockaway rapper best known for his work with French Montana and sturdy work ethic, Jay Z let loose with a freestyle that included more than a few interesting bars.

I feel like YouTube is the biggest culprit/Them n****s pay you a tenth of what you're supposed to get
You know n****s died for equal pay right?/You know when I work I ain't your slave right?

And maybe the most interesting one.

The only one they hating on look the same as you.

Jay Z delivered that last line while two of his fingers vacillated from his face to the predominantly minority crowd, implying that his race plays a role in the criticism he’s garnered over the past 2 months. Could that be true? Absolutely. In fact, chances are it’s probable. But he’ll have to do a lot more than big-brand shaming to convince the masses that it’s time for them to let Jay carry them to the streaming promise land.

This weekend was certainly a start.