Partly because I was raised well and partly because I'm a coward, I tend to follow the rules. Because of this fact, I have a subpar record at sneaking into events, pretending I'm on lists that I most certainly am not on, and looking so important that my presence isn't questioned.
My luck finally changed last night, as a certain pass happened to make its way into my hands, giving me all the clearance needed to speed-walk with my head down, texting no one, into the side door of Carnegie Hall, without being form-tackled by the five tuxedo-clad bouncers.
When I arrived in the backstage room, completely unaware of my bearings in the concert hall, I looked over at a set list and saw that the show was half over (I failed to mention that I waited by the side door for an hour, sans socks, because I was wearing penny loafers and only slobs wear socks with penny loafers.) Nas and Alicia Keys had already performed, and personal favorites such as "U Don't Know" and "PSA" had already come and gone. Being an extremely ungrateful young man, I was sort of bummed out. I was also pretty sure I had a mild case of frostbite and my toes were refusing to thaw out.
In the corner of the room, there was a small monitor showing not only the concert, but the crowd, who were seemingly having the time of their lives. While the majority of the audience was belting his lyrics, I was backstage, silent, having an unbelievably hard time not displaying my proficiency with the flow of "99 Problems" and "Song Cry." And when he played "Encore" and my brain wouldn't allow my arms to raise up to throw up the Roc diamond, I almost burst into tears.
You see, I missed the 2003 Fade to Black "retirement" show at Madison Square Garden. I also missed the 2010 Jay-Z and Eminem show at Yankee Stadium. And just to make sure it wasn't a fluke, I missed the entire Watch the Throne tour. I've spent almost a full decade attempting to see Jay-Z in a venue around equally obsessed individuals. While I was shockingly close to it backstage at Carnegie Hall, this was almost more torturous, because every now and then, the door would open, showing the stage and the crowd, and another significant chunk of my happiness would wither away.
As "Encore" ended, I actually considered leaving, and then the door opened and out walked Shawn Carter. There I was, four feet away from Blue Ivy's dad. Sensing the smile on my face getting ever-so-creepy, I looked down. As I stared at my ankles, I finally realized this was the hallway that Jay would be walking through whenever he left the stage. Connecting the dots, that meant he was walking through at least one more time. I could barely contain myself.
Like clockwork, Jay passed me a second time, but this time didn't immediately walk onstage. Holding his mic and a bottle of Ace of Spades, he began talking to the crowd. Initially unsure of where he was going with this dialogue, it soon became clear he was setting up the Gladiator-infused "What More Can I Say." After about 30 seconds, the door opened, he was on the stage, the door was closed, and he was gone.
"What More Can I Say" bled into the two-song Jigga medley ("Jigga My Nigga," "Jigga What, Jigga Who"). Following this, he launched into "Big Pimpin," and after finishing the classic Pimp-C verse, he started the show's finale, "Young Forever." Blending in his verse from Young Jeezy's "I Do" and replacing the Mr. Hudson-assisted chorus with the glorious Bridget Kelly, the concert seemed to be ending on a calm, classy note, appropriate for a venue like Carnegie Hall.
It was at this moment that the unthinkable happened. Yes, he did an encore, and yes, he walked back through our room to do portions of "Best of Me (Remix)," "Ain't No Nigga," "Money, Cash, Hoes," "Money Ain't a Thing," and "Juicy" from the balcony, but after wrapping up "Juicy," I got a tap on the shoulder, telling me that this was the time to make a break for the main floor. The coast was clear. I don't know if I was all-out running, but there was definitely no walking taking place. Weaving through the stairs in an almost a parkour-esque state of travel, I pulled it together upon seeing the two guards and walked through the double doors, thus beginning my informal introduction to Carnegie Hall.
I caught the last 20 seconds of "Mo Money, Mo Problems" and then the concert was over. Twenty seconds and then I walked home. What a perfect night.