A lot of people have been asking me about what it was like to open for Jay-Z, so I wanted to put everything into words. Sit back and relax, I might get long winded. Unless you want the short version which is: “it was amazing!”
I have to admit, the emotions leading up to the big day were overwhelming at first. The day I found out I was ultra excited, I felt like I was on top of the world. The next day I accepted it and calmed myself down, thinking I would be calm enough to make it until the event. Then I woke up on Sunday (the day of the show) and the minute I opened my eyes I realized this would be one of the best days of my life, and my nerves were sure letting me know about it.
It’s hard to describe exactly how/what I was feeling but it was a healthy mixture of anxiety (I can’t believe this is really happening!) + excitement (I can’t wait to get on stage!) + self-doubt (am I really ready for this?). You know what that all equates to? Feeling like you are going to lose your lunch any second! I held these feelings until the minute I dropped the first record in my set. To me, feeling this way is key. This is my way of knowing that I still love what I do, and that I still care about how I perform and maintaining the reputation that I’ve built for myself.
Upon arrival at the venue I got my first dose of how tight the security would be. You couldn’t even get past the security booth if you didn’t already have an access pass. Of course I didn’t have mine yet so I had to deal with the guard until my contact from live nation came out to meet me. However, just before my contact made it outside, the security guy asks “well what’s your name?” to which I reply “DJ Forge” which was met with “oh! you’re dj forge! we got you on the list, just drive on back.” Admittedly, I felt instantly cooler. I dropped of my equipment by the loading area, and then I was given this, my access pass (I would quickly come to learn that this thing = gold).
After a quick security check (TSA style, they even made me open up my turntable flight cases to check inside) I was headed to the stage area to set up my equipment. When I got there J. Cole was on stage rehearsing with the Roc Boys for his guest verse on “Star Is Born”. After that, Trey Songz + band did their sound check, and then I was finally able to set up my equipment. I was placed on the corner of the sage on two band cases (not much room, if I didn’t have my moog audio laptop stand I would have been out of luck!), did a quick sound check, then went backstage to wait for my time slot. While I was there I was able to eat in the backstage catering room, which was pretty good (old bay roasted potatoes were so key!). Here’s a shot of the huge banner I had made for myself the day before the show so everyone would know who I was (unfortunately I wasn’t able to use it because I made it the length of a standard six foot table, and like I said, space was limited):
^ I should have marked my name in on that schedule!
Ok back on topic. 7pm finally arrives and it’s time for me to take the stage and warm up the crowd. First impression on DJing in such a huge venue: how do I make all these people pay attention to what I’m doing? The easy answer is: you have to command their attention. As we all know, that is most often easier said that done. And this brings me to the part that many people have asked me about, and that is “so, what did you play?” The thing is, the Jay-Z fan base encompasses a broad spectrum of people. You have the heads who have been down since day one that respect the traditional new york hits at one end and then on the other end you have today’s casual radio listener who’s breadth of hip-hop knowledge doesn’t go much deeper than the hits from the past couple of years. Now, take whatever you were planning to play for that set of people and mix it in with the fact that Trey Songz and Young Jeezy were also on the show, and you’ll soon realize you have a lot of ground to cover. So what I’m trying to say is in an hour’s time, I did a lot. I played some NY classics, current NY hits, current south hits, and at the end I ran some soul classics to prep for Trey Songz. Here’s a quick clip so you can see the scope of the venue:
The dynamic of being an opening DJ in such a large venue (20,000 people) is much different than that of say, Cat’s Cradle, which is about 600 people or so. It’s difficult to get a grasp on the energy, at least not until towards the end of the set when the seats are getting filled more quickly. I kind of wondered how I did, but according to what people have told me on twitter and facebook, it seems I did ok!
^ J. Cole prior to his performance
The night just kept getting better though, because my access pass afforded me the opportunity to watch the entire concert from beside the stage. Watching the show so close up has to be a highlight of my hip-hop fandom. Trusty flip cam in tow, I got quite a bit of footage from the show, but out of respect for the remaining shows I don’t want to post too much. Here’s a clip including J. Cole’s appearance in front of a sold out greensboro coliseum crowd for his verse on “Star is born.” If you’re wondering who that is on stage singing the hook for empire state of mind, the answer: Bridget Kelly, another roc nation artist.
Just so you can see how crazy the energy was, here’s Hov performing “U don’t Know” — sorry, I couldn’t hold the camera still because I was going crazy as well — also sorry it goes vertical at the end, had to throw the roc up!
Here’s a clip of “Encore”/the end of the show:
After the show it’s the after party! I had a good time later that night at Venue for Young Guru’s birthday bash. DJ Skillz was absolutely killin’ the party as usual! Had fun partying with the other members of the Jukebox Heroes crew (minus DJ Paradime, who was DJing the official after party at Lotus w/ Jay-Z and Beyonce, but I’ll let him recap that himself), and the big homie 9th Wonder. Here’s the official recap video,you can catch me in it being a super fan! If you’re wondering what song is playing through the video, it’s Laws “Shinin” (click to download).
Overall this was one of the most memorable nights of my life, and a solid bullet point to the list of things I’ve done in my DJ career. Thanks to Bumrush and Live Nation for the opportunity and for letting me get pics and video! Entire photo gallery is below for you to check out: