Legendary rapper Jay-Z played the first-ever show at the Barclays Center on Friday night, packing the new arena with a hometown crowd eager to welcome the native son back to Brooklyn.
Wearing a Brooklyn Nets jersey and cap, the rapper from the Marcy Projects who owns a tiny stake in the basketball team took the stage inside the $1-billion stadium and asked: “Is Brooklyn in the house?”
It was a moment that hoops fans and critics of the long-stalled Atlantic Yards mega-project agree will change the borough forever.
“This is history in the making,” said 27-year-old Jay-Z fan Myrtha Xavier, who came from Staten Island to see the performance. “He’s the highest-ranked hip hop artist and no one can take that from him.”
In the hours before the sold-out show, fans of Jay-Z’s music milled about outside the arena, while movers and shakers strolled down a black carpet (red doesn’t match the Nets color scheme) lit by the flashbulbs of press photographers. Amid the hustle and bustle, protesters staged last-minute demonstrations against the long-stalled Atlantic Yards development, which calls for far more than hoops and hip hop concerts, as well as NYPD policy.
Jay-Z took the stage and debuted a new verse before welcoming a crowd packed with celebrities including his wife Beyonce, future Nets players, sports legends including Magic Johnson, and arena developer Bruce Ratner to “the house HOV built.”
The emcee, also known as Jigga-Man, then went through his repertoire of classics such as “Izzo (H.O.V.A)” and “99 Problems,” as well as a cover of the late Clinton Hill legend Notorious B.I.G.’s hit “Juicy.”
Lovers of Jay-Z’s music said his rags-to-riches life story is as inspirational as his New York City ballad “Empire State of MInd.”
“He was dirt poor and now he’s a big deal entrepreneur. You gotta respect that,” said 27-year-old Quintin Potte, also of Staten Island. “I hope he brings out Alicia Keys for that New York song.”
Others went even further to take Jay-Z’s business-minded approach to heart.
“We’re hustling tonight,” said Watts Hopkins, who camped out in front of the stadium to sell glow-in-the-door “grills” — illuminated dental adornments that fans could clip onto their teeth.