Jay Z - Unplugged
It seems silly now, given that The Roots back all kinds of artists on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show (and previously on Late Night), but at the time, playing MTV’s Unplugged with Jay Z apparently caused a great deal of consternation for the Roots’ bandleader Questlove. “We had a two-day summit meeting with our friends and our peers and everything,” he told Pitchfork in 2011. “It was like the riskiest move I ever did in my life: ‘Shall I take this call from Jay-Z?’ We’re dealing with a kinder, gentler Jay-Z now – but he really wasn't showing that side back in ‘99. It was a dangerous thing to do.”
As Questlove readily admits, it went well and paid off for the Roots via further collaborations with Sean Carter and a variety of other opportunities (the aforementioned talk show gigs likely among them). It also gave us something of an anomaly in the form of Jay Z’s only live album; and a live hip-hop album is a rare thing in and of itself. At the taping, Jay dispels any tension that may have surrounded the occasion by immediately joking, “Welcome to Jay Z’s poetry reading.” It’s a listening experience that requires some adjusted expectations going in; anyone expecting the familiar rush of his radio hits is likely to be disappointed. But the Roots produce lots of nice touches. For example, when Jay playfully sings “I wish I never met her at all” in “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me),” the band goes into Carl Thomas’ “I Wish” for a couple bars; a sly wink to those who get the reference and a little history lesson for those who don’t. Jay works the crowd in other ways; ranking its energy level on a scale from one to 10 throughout. For the record, he says he has them at six after three songs, at seven after five, at eight after 10 and at 10 after 12.