With the crowd hanging on his every word, Jay asked the rhetorical question, "You want to keep going?"
Nearly an hour later, Jay-Z and co-headliner Eminem had finally finished giving their audience a night to remember, and there was no question the first concert in the new Yankee Stadium had lived up to expectations. People come to Yankee Stadium to see great moments in time, and that's exactly what took place on Monday, with an encore performance set for Tuesday night (doors open at 5 p.m. ET, showtime is at 7:30).
"It was a fantastic night for music fans with two of the world's most popular artists playing to a sold-out crowd at Yankee Stadium," Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost said after Monday's show. "Tonight's concert reinforces the fact that Yankee Stadium is a venue for premier events of all types -- from concerts such as Jay-Z and Eminem, to championship boxing, which we hosted earlier this summer, to the pageantry of college football, which will be played in November and December.
"Thanks to the vision of the Steinbrenner family, we are proud to enter this current era in Yankee Stadium history, in which this magnificent building is about more than just baseball. The Stadium is now a year-round destination with the best events in sports and entertainment."
Fans filled the outfield from foul line to foul line in front of the stage in center field, and packed the grandstand from the field level up to the upper deck. The Stadium looked almost otherworldly, with enormous glowing screens offering a visual backdrop for the performers, and the infield and stands were darkened. There was a sense that something truly great was about to take place.
"I think it's a massive moment for both of them," said Maura Johnston, a music analyst for Newsday and NPR, among others. "Jay is solidifying his status as New York's premier entertainer, taking the torch from Billy Joel in a way. Eminem is coming off a triumphant year that was sparked by him apologizing that his last album [2009's Relapse] wasn't up to snuff, then releasing a song explicitly about his triumph over adversity -- 'Not Afraid.'"
As the Yankees battled the Rays in a pivotal matchup 1,100 miles south of the Bronx, Eminem took Curtis Granderson's usual spot in center field to a huge ovation. And as he launched into the fiery "Won't Back Down," his focus and intensity had the sellout crowd nodding their heads and rapping along with his lyrics.
"It is an honor and a privilege to be sharing this stage with Jay-Z tonight," Eminem told the crowd. "Don't think I don't know where I am right now. I am honored to be on this stage in the Bronx, in the birthplace of hip-hop. Thank you very much for having me tonight."
Co-headlining at the Stadium was a benchmark achievement for Eminem, one of the most talented hip-hop artists of his generation. In the past couple years, he's had to overcome the demons of drug addiction and the death of close friend and mentor Proof, which caused Eminem to put his career on hold for a time. But Eminem's latest CD -- the appropriately named Recovery -- was at the top of the charts all summer, as he again became one of the biggest names in music.
Though the "Home and Home Tour" had played a week prior at Comerica Park in Detroit -- Eminem's hometown -- his message resonated in New York, a city of great perseverance and strength.
"Everybody here who's a big Eminem fan, I want to thank you so much for supporting me and sticking by me," Eminem said toward the end of his razor-sharp set, which included guest appearances from hip-hop heavyweights Dr. Dre and 50 Cent. "This song is for you."
|"I gotta tell y'all it's one of the most wonderful things being here tonight, being from New York City and being in Yankee Stadium."|
As Eminem performed the anthemic "Not Afraid," a song in which he details frankly how he turned his life around, a stadium full of people sang the chorus along with him. And as he finished with the inspirational "Lose Yourself," punctuated by a spectacular fireworks show, his words rang loud and clear from someone who very nearly lost it all, but found the strength to again reach the pinnacle of his profession.
After a break, a 10-minute countdown clock appeared on the big screens, as the entire crowd began gearing up for Jay-Z's arrival as if it were New Year's Eve.
"I went to a Yankees game the day after Alex Rodriguez hit his 599th home run," said fan Montana Barone, sitting in the 300-level behind home plate. "And when A-Rod came to the plate, everyone stood up and wanted to witness history -- even Jay-Z, who was there! That's the way it was when everyone was waiting to see Jay. I felt like the whole stadium just had a special buzz to it, like we were a part of something great."
Greatness has come to be expected from one of New York's favorite success stories. A Brooklyn native, Jay-Z has brought himself up from the streets through hard work, talent and business savvy to become one of the most prominent entertainers in the world. The man, simply put, is a winner.
As such, it's not a surprise Jay-Z has aligned himself over time with the Yankees. His iconic version of "Empire State of Mind" before Game 2 of the 2009 World Series at Yankee Stadium -- and encore performance at the victory parade -- helped him notch the first No. 1 Billboard song of his incredible career. Yankees/Jay-Z co-branded merchandise is currently available at the Stadium.
"As big as his sold-out MSG shows were for him, I think this is probably bigger than that," said Jeff Rosenthal of hip-hop blog It's The Real. "The idea of selling out Yankee Stadium is an achievement for him, especially for someone who has always branded himself with the Yankees. He has the Yankees hat on for the cover of his albums; he always wears it. I think tonight is a huge personal achievement for somebody who claims to run New York. I think this is a huge point of pride for him."
While Eminem projected himself as a man with something to prove, Jay-Z seemed at the absolute top of his game -- Derek Jeter with a microphone. And when polarizing superstar Kanye West emerged to a thunderous ovation during "Run This Town" -- merely Jay's second song -- it set the tone for an incredible set.
Jay-Z proceeded to thrill the crowd with a performance that was nothing short of spectacular, joined by a guest list that also included Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Jay's wife, Beyonce. Eminem took the stage again to perform Renegade with Jay-Z, who also paid tribute to fallen titans such as Tupac Shakur (the landmark hip-hop show was fittingly on the 14th anniversary of his passing), Notorious B.I.G. -- and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
As the night wound down, Jay-Z gazed out at the crowd in his hometown and acknowledged that even someone as accomplished as he is could still aspire to new heights.
"This night was like a gift for me," Jay-Z said. "I hope I returned it in full. I appreciate every single person from the bottom all the way to the top. This is better than any Grammy I've ever received, and any MTV award I've ever received.
"I'd give them all back to have another night like tonight."
Bryan Horowitz is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.