Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake are so obscenely famous that it’s entirely plausible that people would shell out their hard-earned cash to see the rapper and pop star read from the phone book. But when the duo dropped by the Pasadena Rose Bowl on Sunday for the “Legends of the Summer” tour they’re co-headlining, they certainly didn’t phone in their performances. Instead, both artists put on a high-octane show that had an estimated 60,000 spectators dancing, head bobbing and swaying back and forth to their mix of club jams, hip-hop anthems and ballads.
The pair kicked off the concert with “Holy Grail,” a track featuring Justin Timberlake from Jay’s new chart-topping album Magna Carta Holy Grail. They then launched into a mash up of their hits—kicking off with Jay-Z’s “I Just Wanna Love U” and Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body.” Concertgoers with a preference for either the rapper or the pop star who planned to hit the concession stand when their favorite musician wasn’t on the mike were sorely mistaken. The “Legends of the Summer” tour was completely a collaborative effort, with Timberlake performing guitar, keyboards and vocals on Jay-Z’s string of hits, including “Excuse Me Miss.” In a clever turn the former Disney kid even voiced the part of the cop who racially profiles Jay in “99 Problems,” a foreshadowing of the duo’s decision to end the concert with “Young Forever,” which they dedicated to Trayvon Martin, the slain youth many believe was a victim of racial profiling. In addition to singing vocals on some of Jay-Z’s hits, Timberlake opened the hip-hop artist’s “Empire State of Mind” by covering Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”—the perfect choice for Timberlake to solidify his new pop-meets-jazz persona.
If that weren’t enough to prove that Timberlake is a musical virtuoso, he took time out from singing hits such as “My Love” to perform some Michael Jackson-style dance moves—crotch-grabbing and all. Not to be outdone by the former ‘N Sync star, Jay-Z flexed his MC skills, rapping verses of hits such as “Big Pimpin’” a cappella to leave no doubt about his dexterity on the microphone. A brilliant backing band accompanied both musicians as they performed, adding impressive electric guitar solos to songs such as JT’s “Cry Me a River,” the breakup song rumored to be about his long ago split with Britney Spears.
While Timberlake emerged as the multi-tasker of the night, Jay carried the crowd on sheer energy alone. The rapper may now be middle-aged but on stage he oozes swagger in spades. The only problem with his performance was that most songs he showcased debuted after he became a superstar. Anyone hoping to see Jay rap the tracks that made his early albums such as Reasonable Doubt and In My Lifetime Vol. 2 hip-hop classics went home disappointed. And though Timberlake is truly talented—able to sing, dance and play instruments with seemingly no need to catch his breath—his series of mid- to down-tempo songs near the concert’s end began to cast a lull over the crowd. But just when it appeared that JT was losing his grip on the audience, he burst into “Sexy Back,” joined on stage by its producer Timbaland.
Before ending on a somber note with “Young Forever,” Jay-Z and JT revved the crowd up one last time with the song that introduced their new musical partnership to the world: “Suit & Tie.” What better way than this suave groove to drive home the message that the pop star and the rapper see themselves as this generation’s Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., respectively? But, of course, JT and Jay-Z have already become legends in their own right.