One of the first times I had ever heard a Jay-Z track, he was rapping '(It's a) Hard Knock Life', a bass-infused looping sample from the musical 'Annie'. Well, that was a long time ago, and he is far from any days of living out any hard knocks: present day, he's a rap mogul valuated at almost $1 billion, married to Beyonce... 'Queen Bey'... a queen whose massive 117 million followers on Instagram puts her in the top 5 most-followed users on that platform.
When I took my seat for the OTR II (On The Run II) concert, it was impossible not to stare at the massive stage that dominated the floor level of the outdoor open-sky Camping World Stadium. The opening act, R&B sister duo 'Chloe x Halle' performed on the extreme far end of the stage from where I sat. Again, back to the enormity of the stage, the duo looked so far and isolated on the far-end of the stage, it made me wonder how close Beyonce and Jay-Z would appear. Chloe x Halle performed well, but had no flashy backgrounds or complicated dance routines... just the 2 of them performing.
Local-grown DJ Khaled, who previously claimed Orlando as his residence in his younger days, was accompanied by his longtime friend and fellow Orlando DJ (DJ Nasty) as the 2nd opening act. Khaled is the hype man. He got the crowd on their feet, pumped and ready to welcome Queen Bey and Jay. He alternated with Nasty on the turntable, throwing down some extremely familiar and relatable beats / old school hits, which then got the crowd dancing and singing along. Surprisingly, Khaled broke out into a few dance moves of his own onstage before clearing it for Mr. and Mrs. Carter.
2 massive (MASSIVE) screens flanked the back part of the stage. Film footage, from what I'm assuming was recorded during their time in Cuba in recent years, played on both screens... it was like watching a hip-hop version of the Godfather... but then you realize that these 2 superstars had significantly more money in real life than any movie-portrayed mobster. 2 brightly-lit 'cross' formations illuminated the central portion of the stage, and the celebrity husband and wife could be seen descending onto the stage via a makeshift elevator that sliced down between both screens.
Hand in hand they emerged from the elevator as they walked forward onto the stage. It was electric and the audience was in a frenzy. Welcome to the Carter's world... Orlando had no idea that for the next 2.5 hours we'd be fully immersed in this dream-like vision... by my count, they covered over 40 songs this night, I don't recall any song being performed in its entirety, but being able to hear a few bars from hip-hop wedded royalty live and in person: nobody was disappointed.
Throughout the night, short video clips featuring the couple's children, served as the stage's backdrop. Videos of the loving couple frolicking on a beach, lovingly looking into each other's eyes... you were very much immersed in this beautiful fairy tale of 2 musical icons falling into a very deep and powerful love with one another. With each video, viewers sank deeper and deeper into that love, and in some crazy sort of way, you were part of this billionaire-duo's marriage. Throughout the concert relationship, you experienced the high's of the relationship, evidenced by intricate dance routines performed by Bey's backup dancers. Where Beyonce took to the stage with a dozen or so backup dancers, Jay-Z took to the stage by himself mostly (the only times he had any 'backups' existed in the form of his wife standing directly by his side), and without any spotlights being shown on him. As a concert-goer, you also experienced the low's of this relationship, as you sat through the painful and gut-wrenchingly haunting 'Resentment' performed by Beyonce, at the center of the stadium, wearing a taupe-colored flowing dress that closely reminded me of a wedding dress.
The show was an extremely impressive one. Vocally, Beyonce sounded to be at her best. Lyrically, Jay-Z was sharp and dictive as a tack. It was cute, yet awesome, to see Beyonce accompany him on stage, when in some songs she wasn't even singing... but she was there with her husband and no matter how much choreography was taught, the love between the 2 was apparent and genuine. There were frequent wardrobe changes, but at no time in the show was there any noticeable downtime.
It's powerful. It's beautiful. It's entertaining. Catch 'On The Run II' before this show eventually comes to a stop.
Write-up by: Bailey Guinigundo
Photo: by Raven Varona/Parkwood/PictureGroup