Jay-Z fades out in style

Staff WriterDecember 10, 2004 

Jay-Z bids a big-screen farewell in 'Fade to Black.'

Jay-Z has got to be the hardest-working retiree in show business.

Although he said he was giving up the rap-superstar life late last year, his face has far from evaporated from the public eye. He just got through headlining a tour that once had him sharing the bill with controversial R&B star R. Kelly. (For those who are wondering what the two would've sounded like together onstage, their second collaborative effort, "Unfinished Business," is now in stores.) He just released a mash-up CD with Linkin Park called "Collision Course." And now, here he is on the big screen, saying goodbye once again, in the new documentary "Fade to Black."

Directors Patrick Paulson and Michael John Warren keep their digital video cameras focused on Jay-Z, Jigga, Hova or whatever he's calling himself at the time, as he performs the "farewell" concert he held at Madison Square Garden in November 2003. Yes, concert-movie fans, Jay-Z stars in his own version of "The Last Waltz." (While watching this movie, I kept expecting Van Morrison to come out in that sparkly jumpsuit and join Jay in a remix version of "Caravan.")

It's certainly a phenomenal kick watching the persistently charismatic MC pull out all the stops to entertain his fans and amp up the vibe. He becomes even more loose and energetic when he shares the stage with his fellow Roc-A-Fella brothers (Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Freeway) as well as such special guests as Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott and main squeeze Beyonce. The only time the Jigga Man looks tense and uneasy is when he performs a "Best of Both Worlds" medley with -- you guessed it -- R. Kelly.

"Black" also intercuts the concert footage with footage of Jay recording his final disc "The Black Album." The scenes show him hopping from studio to studio, auditioning beats from superstar producers Pharrell Williams, Timbaland and old-school legend Rick Rubin. These shots give us brief insight into the man's creative process, as he wows these industry vets with his instant rhyming skills (he doesn't write a word down -- it's all in his head) and contemplates falling back on thug-rap cliches to appease his audience.

"Fade to Black" is an undoubtedly exciting concert flick, required viewing for Jay-Z fans who love him live or fans who couldn't see him live because they couldn't afford the tickets or were afraid they'd get injured if they went. However, the movie does make you wonder why Jay-Z didn't just air his concert on pay-per-view and get crazy paid? I guess he thought if The Band could go out gracefully on the big screen, so could he.

Staff writer Craig D. Lindsey can be reached at 829-4760 or clindsey@newsobserver.com.

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