On September 11, 2009, hip-hop icon Jay-Z, held a benefit concert entitled Answer the Call. As expressed throughout the concert, his purpose was the celebration of life. Celebrating all those that lost their lives 8 years ago in a tragedy that affected all our lives today. The mere essence of this concert symbolized the ultimate motivation of black music. It brought people together for one cause. It gave them an avenue to express themselves. It helped transcend cultural, economical, social, and racial barriers to bear the thoughts and feelings of the black soul to audiences from all walks of life.
It is amazing how the idea of crossover fit Jay-Z and fit this concert so well. This series of performances began with our National Anthem being played on an electric guitar by a black male. His performance very reminiscent of rock music, dominated by the young white male, was instead an opener to a concert that would prove itself to be cross-cultural and cross-generational. The audience consisted of men and women from all races and ethnicities. I was initially surprised at the large white and Asian population. In addition to their attendance, individuals of these non-traditional hip-hop groups were just as involved physically and musically as you would expect from the black audience. They sang along to every song, grooved to every beat, and threw up Jay-Z’s rock sign either on command by the performers or in reverence with other audience members. The age groups ranged from young boys, probably 10 years old, to men and women that appeared to be in their 40s and 50s.
Jay-Z’s crossover appeal can also be translated to his personality. He sported his all-black look. However, contrary to the baggy jeans, over-sized look generalized to hip-hop artists, he wore skinny jeans and nerd glasses that caused individuals in my presence to comment about him not being “hood” anymore. He uses instruments distinctive of all genres of music such as the saxophone, trumpets, pianos, violins, drums, and more. In his music he speaks on his evolution as an artist and as a person yet still holing claims to his hood days. This crossover experienced by him as an individual transcends to his ability to reach the masses.
As able as Jay-Z is to reach massive groups of people, it was still interesting to see the male/female dynamics on stage and in the audience. Firstly, his band consisted of all men. Their talents were fully realized as each were given solos, large amounts of camera time, and egged on by Jay-Z himself. He put on this very manly façade when rapping and addresses the audience in a role of superiority commanding them to get involved, put up the rock, or sing along. However, with many guest artists making appearances, slower songs yielded a softer side in which he became playful with the audience. Interestingly, it was at these times that non-traditional hip-hop listeners were highlighted in the audience, like a white male wearing a bow tie or an Asian man that knew every lyric.
Jay-Z broke this stage of manliness at his moment of silence followed by his new song Forever Young sung by Mr. Hudson, a white male. This song, as calm and soothing as any Bob Marley hit, played as pictures of 911 victims flashed on a screen in the shape of the NY skyline. A very vulnerable Jay-Z was exposed, as he had to compose himself before speaking again. This was very short-lived, because he broke this somewhat feminine mood to yet another hard hitting male dominated song.
Women were finally seen when they were guest artists in one of his songs, with the exception of Beyonce. As stereotyped in the hip-hop culture, these women were highly sexualized. They wore revealing outfits and brought the only dance numbers to the stage, which was sexual in its nature as well. When rap songs that bore highly sexual lyrics were sung, the audience members featured were women. We were able to see their involvement in songs that would appear to have male appeal yet were so enjoyed by the women in attendance.
From artists that fulfilled the hip-hop mold to those that play with the line of popular music, this concert featured them all on one stage for one cause. It reached a diverse group of people and brought them all together to prove the resilience of NY and the resilience of our country through celebrating lives lost. There is no truer testimony of black culture expressed through black music than the message of resilience.