(Photo: Matthew Lamb)

Is Jay Z irrelevant? Is it time for him to pass the torch of being hip hop’s biggest star to Kendrick Lamar? If you had been at the Moda Center for the rapper’s Portland show last week, it would seem as if no one had given the 48-year-old musician such a message. Despite rumors of flagging ticket sales, Jay Z played a 30-plus song set to a packed house in Portland, allaying all fears that Hov has become passé.

Rather than opt for a major multi-media experience, Jay Z performed on a spare pyramid-shaped stage, holding down the evening with his amazing catalog of songs and his magnetism. The band remained tucked away in small pits on the side, giving it the appearance that Jay Z alone ruled this naked stage. A cluster of giant moving screens hovered nearby, allowing those in the nosebleeds a chance to see Jay Z up close, but for nearly two hours, Sean Carter turned in as intimate a performance as one could in a room that holds nearly 20,000 people.

Jay Z is on tour in support of his latest album, 4:44, a personal record that addresses the same infidelities that Beyonce examined on Lemonade last year. Perhaps Carter is now a bit humbler, taking the stage in a leather jacket emblazoned with “Blind for Love” across the back. He used his few moments of banter to talk about love and family and it’s clear that this is almost a mea culpa tour for a man who personifies the dark side of the American Dream. Starting off with new song “Kill Jay Z,” the MC hewed close to a greatest hits set rather than leaning heavily on his new release. It makes sense, as much of 4:44 is quieter and more introspective than what fans would expect from an arena show.

Much of the set consisted of Hov’s most beloved songs from “Lucifer” to “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” to “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” “99 Problems” moved perfectly into “Big Pimpin’” and while the audience responded to the newer material, it was songs such as these that got them really fired up. Even if there is little spontaneity in arena shows, Carter cut short a version of “Niggas in Paris,” telling us that the crowd was more amped than he was. After gathering himself, Jay Z gave us a countdown and then burst into an inspired version of that song he recorded with Kanye West.

Though Jay Z moves a little slower than many of the emerging rappers in their 20s, his set confirmed that he is still on top of his game. He was able to captivate a crowd for nearly two hours almost single-handedly, even if he ended on a somewhat bum note, doing a cover of Linkin Park’s “Numb” and talking about Chester Bennington’s suicide. Honestly, all Jay Z had to do was flash his smile once and the crowd went insane. However, the biggest cheer of the night didn’t belong to Carter. During a costume change, home movies flashed on the giant screens. Upon the first glimpse of Beyonce, the crowd went wild. You were a king, Hova. You don’t need to protect the throne from Kendrick and Vince Staples. It’s Beyonce who has knocked you off that rarified pedestal.

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