I am not a Jay-Z fan. I repeat, I am not a Jay-Z fan. I stan for Jay-Z. There’s a difference. Based on the central character in the Eminem song of the same name, a “Stan” is an overzealous maniacal fan for any celebrity or athlete.
My first Jay-Z concert was 15 years ago today at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. It was Jay’s first “Give Back Show,” a concert that would happen annually at the city’s hottest venues. It was my second concert ever, and I’d never been so excited. But I didn’t want to get too close. My late grandma was super protective, and her fears were my blueprint. I was scared of getting floor seats, because it just felt like a dangerous place, like a free for all. I knew I couldn’t handle that yet, so I opted for the first balcony, in a comfy seat close to the exit. Grandma’s instructions were to, “make it home,” and that was my mission.
But my mixture of nervousness and excitement took a turn for the worse when I realized I was sitting with the friends and family of M.O.P.! Why was I freaking out? It was 2002, and the Brownsville, Brooklyn, rap crew’s single, “Ante Up,” was an explicit ode to the good ol’ art of robbery.
Take minks off! Take things off!
Take chains off! Take rings off!
Bracelets is yapped, fame came off!
[Ante Up!] Everything off!
I managed to keep my cool. I’m from Brooklyn, too, so I reasoned that it would all work out.
From the time the show began, I was on my feet going lyric for lyric with Jay. The Roc-A-Fella All-Stars were also in the building and that was the icing on the cake as Memphis Bleek, Beanie Siegel, and Dame Dash took the stage. And then there was the performance of “The Takeover,” Jay’s infamous Nas and Prodigy diss that dropped weeks before the concert.
Life was good—until Jay announced his surprise special guest from Brooklyn. My balcony erupted in a sound of pure aggressive support the likes of which I’ve only heard maybe three times in my life. We rose to our feet to the intricate sounds of the intro to “Ante Up,” and what took place next is forever etched into my memory: As the song filled the air, its lyrics began to play out on the floor below us in real time.
Ante Up! Yap that fool!
Ante Up! Kidnap that fool!
It’s the perfect timing, you see the man shining
Get up off them goddamn diamonds! Huh!
And suddenly, Grandma’s advice didn’t seem so bad. I watched people scurry in and out of the crowd, their faces fixed with looks of complete helplessness and despair. I watched the crowd move rhythmically and melodically to each chord, and then, just like that, it was over. I felt my heart to see if it was still beating. It was. Jay effortlessly transitioned to the next song, the crowd reverted back to concert mode, and before I knew it, my first Jay-Z concert was done and a stan had been born.