When Forest City Ratner announced Atlantic Yards in December 2003, Jay-Z was part of the investment team for the Nets, a "resident Brooklyn-credibility totem" (to quote David Roth).
But he was a star, not a superstar, with the string of hits to come in the next nine years. He and Beyonce had been a couple for little more than a year.
Twitter hadn't been invented, much less Instagram, new technologies to deliver unmediated fan approval in an unending rush.
So last night, the eighth and final show in a wildly successful run opening up the Barclays Center, must have exceeded everyone's expectations, however much they thought an arena could be a Brooklyn game-changer.
Coronation, conflation, and Brooklyn dis
It was also time for a casual dis, as Jay-Z, in a tone of mild grievance, uttered, "A lot of people was opposed to it for some strange reason," adding, "Look at this, what we imagined... it's done so much for the borough, the borough where I'm from."
Actually, however undeniable the arena, the benefits skew far less to the borough and city than to the developers, no matter how much people on scene enjoy paying for the privilege. The New York City Independent Budget Office calls the arena a net loss to the city. (See my Culture of Cheating page and the Atlantic Yards Crime Scene web site.) Jay-Z's been a very valuable front man, and he benefits too.
It was a reminder that, as Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah wrote astutely in the New York Observer in December 2010, "Jay-Z is a natural orator; he can say much or nothing, and it not only sounds good, it also sounds heartfelt."
He obviously didn't remember that line in that 9/27/12 New York Times profile of Bruce Ratner:
His willingness to change plans — abandoning an expensive Frank Gehry design and building a smaller railyard — solidified his reputation for promising anything to get a deal, only to renegotiate relentlessly for more favorable terms.King, queen, and more king
The man born Shawn Carter, again wearing a Brooklyn Nets cap and custom jersey (Carter / 4), was king of Brooklyn.
|Screenshot from Brooklyn Vegan|
Jay-Z fans, as they did all week, embraced the moment by wearing Nets gear--a remarkable conflation and conversion: a laggard team in New Jersey, revamped with almost all new personnel, endorsed by one of the world's tastemakers.
And "Brooklyn" has a team, in that remarkable but common conflation of location with ownership of a "sports entertainment corporation."
Begin with Brooklyn
The concert began with a scrolling set of screenshots, skipping through Brooklyn history, including the consolidation of New York City and Ebbets Field.
The slides cited famous Brooklynites (Mike Tyson and Spike Lee, not Woody Allen and Norman Mailer, in case you were wondering), then referenced Brooklyn's hip-hop history, including Old Dirty Bastard, the Notorious B.I.G., and the Beastie Boys.
The culmination? The 2012 Brooklyn Nets inaugural season.
Jackie Robinson's widow
The special guest? Rachel Robinson, the 90-year-old widow of Dodgers great Jackie Robinson, the man who integrated major-league baseball.
It would be interesting to have channeled Ms. Robinson's commentary on the concert. Surely the pervasive vulgarity, un-shocking to many a few generations younger, would have raised some eyebrows.
Also, Robinson, as her best friend told Sports Illustrated, "hates arrogance in anyone. And she can't stand weakness." Well, Jay-Z embodies the opposite of weakness, but he also embodies arrogance. (Twitter account bio: "Genius.")
However Jay-Z can back up his arrogance, surely he goes over the top. Also note the role of civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel with the Jackie Robinson Foundation; Siegel represented Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn early on, and remained a harsh critic of the use of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards.
"Everybody" from Brooklyn
"Whassup?" Jay-Z addressed the imploring crowd early on. "Tonight's a celebration of where I'm from. So tonight, everybody here's from Brooklyn. So when I say, Brooklyn in the house, I wanna hear everybody in this building."
"Is Brooklyn in the house?" He received roars.
"I'm from Brooklyn," Jay-Z later pronounced. "Just thought I'd remind y'all."
"My own arena"
On top of lines so many people know ("I'm a Brooklyn boy, I may take some getting used to" and "Brooklyn we go hard"), Jay-Z can now say things like "I play for the team I own" or "Now look at me, I can park at my own arena."
Yes, he mentioned arena developer Bruce Ratner, but not Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov (too complicated?), but it profits all of them for Jay-Z to be the public face of the team and the arena.
After all, neither mogul has anything near the pop-culture cred, such as having a drummer wear a t-shirt asking the modest rhetorical question, "Who's the best emcee?"
Remember how the Rev. Al Sharpton claimed "we've gone from Jackie to Jay-Z"? Well, people do believe Jay-Z owns the arena, not Ratner and Prokhorov.
(Actually, they own the arena operating company; the state owns the property, and leases it for a song, all part of an elaborately complicated plan to maintain tax-exempt status and direct payments in lieu of taxes to pay off arena bonds.)
(Here's a good piece of the concert, on video.)
A convenient misreading of the Dodgers's plans
However heartfelt Jay-Z's oratory, his set pieces were known, and not subject to adjustment for fact-checking. So it was no surprise to hear him claim it was "no coincidence" that they were on the site where the Dodgers were supposed to build a new stadium.
Actually, as I wrote 10/1/12, that's not true. They wanted to build across the street, at the site of what is now Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Center mall.
Inspiration from a grievance
Jay-Z continued with a set piece about how people want to "diminish your accomplishments," bizarrely harping on reports that he only owns a tiny fraction of the Nets. But the point was: he's managed to leverage that tiny fraction into the pop culture pantheon.
So, in his exhortation to fans to stand up and "don't let anyone diminish your accomplishments," Jay-Z performed a marvelous piece of mental jiu-jitsu. He got them to identify with his purported feeling of frustration with the media, even though his grievance misinterprets a laudatory New York Times article that showed how his role dwarfed his stake.
The Nets story
Jay-Z related how then-Nets star guard Jason Kidd came into the rappers 40/40 Club and related that the Nets were for sale, and an intermediary ("my boy") hooked up Jay-Z with Bruce Ratner.
"He was like, We going to Brooklyn," Jay-Z related. "I said, Let's do that... I actually said, Fuck, yeah."
Words of inspiration
Near the close, Jay-Z offered another speech. "Let me just say this one thing to you. I believe everybody on the planet earth has genius level talent. I don't believe God picked certain people to have genius level talent... We just have to find out what we are genius at and apply ourselves in a way that support that genius."
He related how an uncle once put down his first rap effort, and how people use their fears and insecurities to dis others. He cited "guys in Harlem, [hoopster] Earl Manigault, coulda been better than Michael Jordan."
"I believe every single person in this building has genius level talent," he claimed, again buffing his fans.
(Actually, the definition of genius is exceptional; it would have been more accurate, though less theatrical, to suggest that every single person has useful talent and strengths they can develop. If they don't come up "genius," they still have something.)
"I believe I'm in the building with somebody's that's gonna change the world," he said, "or maybe 19,000 people that are gonna change the world." (Capacity for his shows: 16,200.)
"Don't be good, Brooklyn, be great," Jay-Z said near the end of the concert, essentially speaking to all his fans, all at least temporarily Brooklynites.
Again with the heartfelt oratory.
"Can I live?"
At one point, as Jay-Z rapped "I'd rather die enormous than live dormant" from the song "Can I Live," I flashed back to an interview I did with Umar Jordan of Bed-Stuy a former Atlantic Yards supporter who turned against the project.
At one point--not mentioned in my piece--Jordan cited "Can I Live" as the question still facing the kids in the Marcy Project where Jay-Z grew up, since their lack of opportunity and optimism has been little changed by the much-ballyhooed arena. (Those with computers--or access to them--did get to see Jay-Z in real time, though.)
The streets around Marcy are still dangerous. How many of the cops flooding the streets around the Barclays Center this past week, generating huge overtime on the public dime, might have been better deployed elsewhere? (Shouldn't the arena be paying for a larger share of security?)
As with the arena, it's always easier to salute what can be seen, rather than imagine more productive alternative uses of public resources.
The collateral damage
After the show ended and guests and arena staffers streamed away, trucks large and small lined up along Dean Street near the arena loading dock, idling and illegally parking, across from a small residential strip.
Then they moved and, after a while, one huge truck began loading concert equipment not in the below-ground loading dock, as promised and planned (and lauded by a critic), but on the surface outside it. A forklift buzzed and beeped as it delivered the contents to the truck after 1 am. Anyone trying to sleep across the street would've needed serious earplugs.
It was just a piece of collateral damage, exacerbated by the placement of an arena less than 200 feet from a residential district, a consequence of the state override of city zoning.
Cops told a few concerned onlookers that this was an unusual circumstance, because the concert ran late and the Harlem Globetrotters were arriving today. (It's the first week of arena operations; we'll see how unusual it is.) No Barclays Center rep was on the sidewalk to explain.
This was unknown to Jay-Z and his fans, and surely to most if not all, part of what's permissible in the grand calculus of an arena "for Brooklyn." That's how it goes when the oratory is heartfelt.
The report on Atlantic Yards Watch
Truck is parked in turning lane:
A "Concert Logistique" tractor trailer truck was parked for over 1/2 an hour in the left-turn lane at 6th Avenue. According to the driver, he was told to park there by the arena operators. In the 1/2 hour it took to file the 311 complaint a second truck pulled up to wait behind the first. The driver sat in his truck while idling, and waited for instructions that were not forthcoming from the arena.
JayZ's Live Nation apparently uses logistics from Canada. The truck had a Quebec plate # which was given to 311 and can be given to authorities.
Police officers were on site next to the truck and initially did not want to assist in seeing the law enforced. Eventually they went to find the driver. When they couldn't find the driver they began to prepare a ticket. Eventually NYPD moved the trucks after the driver for the first arrived.
The queued trucks in the travel lane were only a part of the problem with the loading dock operation last night. Two trucks parked in the "pad" face in were loaded above ground while making noise late at night doing it. According to the workers it was work that was going to take 6 to 8 hours.
I was told by NYPD that a request had been made to run the loading dock differently than detailed to the community by FCRC or ESDC. The reason is that JayZ's concert was "running late" and a second event had to be brought in and set up the next day. As a result trucks were to be staged in a travel lane and loaded above ground in the "pad" across the street from residences rather than below ground where impacts would be less. This was detailed as a "one time thing" to the NYPD. It's worth noting that this is also the first time that the loading dock has been used to remove a production.