Tidal X as a cause is completely unimpeachable. A giant benefit concert with both superstars and lesser-known performers donating their talents to raise money and awareness for charity — this year hurricane and disaster relief for the southern U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico. Likewise, the company’s relief efforts even before the show — it raised money and collected donated goods and has chartered four planes (and counting) to fly them to Puerto Rico — have been exemplary and may well have set a new standard for work by a music-industry business.
The effort and organization to pull off such a complicated show — which features dozens of acts playing sets ranging from a single song to Jay-Z’s half-hour-long headlining set — is almost on a similar scale: The show went on for more than six hours on a Tuesday night at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. When DJ Khaled took the stage at 11:59, almost four hours after the show started, there were still sets from Jennifer Lopez (who went on around 12:30 a.m.), Jay (12:59 a.m.) and Stevie Wonder (1:29 a.m.) to come. Other performers included Fifth Harmony, Kaskade, Chris Brown, Cardi B, Iggy Azalea, Fat Joe, Remy Ma, Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, Yo Gotti, A$AP Ferg, Vic Mensa, Joey Bada$$, Willow Smith, Belly, Jadakiss, David Bisbal, Donnie McClurkin, Jessie Reyez, Mack Wilds, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Mr. Eazi, Justine Skye, Princess Nokia, Tee Grizzley, Rapsody, Kranium, Chloe x Halle, Victory and possibly even more — those are just the ones we’re sure we saw. The evening was hosted by veteran DJ Angie Martinez and featured appearances from “Hamilton” mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda and actor Rosie Perez; the house band, which looked like Jay’s touring group, was onstage for most of the night.
The effort and endurance put forth by the performers and particularly the organizers and staff was monumental — there were few delays and surprisingly few technical glitches (although Mensa lost half of his brief set to a malfunctioning microphone).
And yes, Beyonce was in the house, although no, she did not perform.
The epic range of the show’s talent can be summed up in one fact: The second song of the night was the biggest hit of the year: “Despacito,” performed during Luis Fonsi’s opening set. And while a wide variety of talent was on display, it skewed overwhelmingly toward hip-hop — interestingly, with a generational divide between totally current (Cardi B, A Boogie Wid Da Hoodie) and Jay’s generation (Fat Joe, Jadakiss, etc.), with pop and Latin strongly represented as well. Most of the evening followed the usual Tidal X format of a main-course act performing two or three songs, surrounded by five-or-so-minute spots from two or three smaller acts, which meant that several unfamiliar songs would suddenly be followed by, say, the familiar plinking hook of Fifth Harmony’s “Work” and the crowd would stand and roar as a favorite act (the four Harmonists, wearing matching skin-tight hot-pink outfits with kinky boots) began a 15-or-so-minute set.
So it went throughout the night: A rousing two songs from reggae singer Kranium was followed by two songs from Willow Smith accompanying herself on Spanish guitar, then Iggy Azalea — clad in tight black short shorts, electric blue kinky boots and a yellow turtleneck-style shirt — performed just one song, “Work,” to the disappointment of the crowd. Powerful Spanish singer David Bisbal was followed by an almost comically condensed 10-minute set from Kaskade that climaxed, naturally, with vast amounts of confetti being pumped from the stage, which guaranteed he’ll be the least-popular performer among the Barclays maintenance staff (at least until J-Lo did the same thing). Rapper/actor Mack Wilds made the most of his six minutes, spending as much time working the crowd as he did rapping; YouTube stars Chloe x Halle played a brief, ultra-arty set that of melodramatic, operatic songs. A Boogie Wid Da Hoodie raced through his first song as if, like the crowd, even he couldn’t wait to get to his hit, “Drowning,” which got a rapturous response.
The stage was a tough proving ground that, to paraphrase an old cliché, separated the adults from the kids: Many of the younger artists (and, actually, a few of the bigger ones) clearly were not ready to perform on a stage of this scale, before 18,000-odd restless fans waiting to hear a song they love. For instance, Rapsody’s dense, word-heavy verses never gelled with the band; Justine Skye seemed outsized by the big production and backing her songs got; Willow Smith’s music just isn’t sufficiently developed for the solo spotlight she received. On the other hand, Joey Badass, all by himself on the big stage, showed impressive presence and command of the crowd during his two-song set, and young Colombian singer Jessie Reyez practically grabbed the crowd by the throat. Variety caught a brief set of hers at an upstairs bar in the Meatpacking District just a few months ago, and she somehow brought a similar intimate vibe to the giant Barclay’s stage. She played her minor hit “Figures,” accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, her powerful voice soaring into the rafters. But then she put down the guitar, picked up a red balloon and walked to the front of the stage — and immediately popped it. She then riveted the crowd with “Gatekeeper,” a graphic song about her efforts to break into the music business, as the lyrics played on the screens above the stage: “20 million dollars in a car/ Girl, tie your hair up if you wanna be a star/ 30 million people want a shot, how much would it take for you to spread those legs apart?” She roared out the lyrics, racing all over the stage, flipping her hair around and completely winning over the crowd.
Belly had a tough act to follow — and one of the songs he performed, “P.O.P. (Power of Pussy)” was a major thematic disconnect with what came before — but his energy, solid hooks and hilarious but somehow effective dancing carried him through. Even more of a disconnect was the next act, Pastor Donnie McClurkin, who gave a testimonial to the evening’s charity work and was then joined by a large gospel for “I Need You,” in which he showed off his truly impressive singing voice.
The pace switched up again as headline-level acts began to dominate the stage. Daddy Yankee roared onstage and the crowd erupted to “Gasolina” and “Shaky Shaky,” leaving A$AP Ferg with a tough act to follow, but he delivered with a tight two-song set. Yo Gotti didn’t let up the pace with “Rake It Up,” and then Cardi B — who, judging by the crowd’s constant calls for her, was one of the night’s most anticipated acts — took the stage in a wild, red hip-exposing pants a halter top and gravity-defying spike heels. She played just one song — what else? “Bodak Yellow” — and finished with a shout-out to Puerto Rico and her “home country, the Dominican Republic,” but of course she couldn’t just leave it at that: her last line was “My ass looks fat!”
After a song from New York singer Karen Rodriquez, Chris Brown took the stage for the longest set of the night thus far, wearing a mustard-colored suit with matching sneakers, Next, Rosie Perez and Angie Martinez came on to introduce Jadakiss and Fabolous, and inadvertently provided the night’s most comic moment when Martinez shouted “Brooklyn, what’s up?” as the stage elevator accidentally lowered her and Perez about three feet, kept them there for a moment, then brought them back up.
Jay-Z’s generation of New York hip-hop ruled for the next 45 minutes, as quick sets from Jada, Fab and then a long one from Fat Joe and Remy Ma followed. The generational divide in the crowd became obvious — the kids screaming for Cardi B largely sat down and grooved, while older audience members jumped up and yelled — but Joe’s hit “Lean Back” in particular brought the entire audience together.
At the stroke of midnight DJ Khaled took the stage and did what he does best — hyped the crowd, yelled along with some songs, danced, yelled some more, and then brought out some hip-hop icons from the ‘90s and early ‘00s. First Busta Rhymes — who did a dazzling motormouthed verbal solo that was almost completely unintelligible but an incredible feat of physics — then Swizz Beatz and finally T.I. for “Bring ‘Em Out.” Tip rocked an eye-catching outfit of jeans, a fiery red turtleneck, his now-familiar glasses and a beige jacket, which he took off to reveal a sort of over-the-shoulder fanny pack that he wore for the rest of the set.
Kicking off the home stretch, J-Lo brought what seemed like a reproduction of her Vegas show, with a sparkling New York-themed backdrop (centered around, of course, a 6 subway train) and a group of dazzling dancers who at first wore what were probably intended to be giant speaker cones on their heads (but looked more like shower heads). Clad all in red, she raced through a 20-minute, hits-filled set (“Feelin’ So Good,” for which she was joined by Fat Joe, “Jenny From the Block” and “On the Floor”) that emphasized her old-school hip-hop, Bronx bona fides.
By this point it was nearly 1 a.m. and the crowd was flagging, but Angie Martinez did her best to pump everyone up for Jay-Z’s set, introducing him as “the historical Brooklyn boy!” Jay took the stage with typical low-key aplomb, wearing black jeans, a black tee, a black varsity jacket with gold trim and a black cap — and the crowd roared as he launched into “Empire State of Mind.” More recent hits followed (“You Don’t Know,” “Bam,” “Public Service Announcement,” “Heart of the City”) before he concluded with “N—-s in Paris.” He then said “I’m gonna try to find myself a seat to watch this set from an artist my mom introduced me to — the eight wonder of the world: Stevie Wonder!”
The legend came onstage and sat down at his keyboard and took a few minutes to settle in. By this point it was nearly 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning and the show was in its sixth hour, and Wonder started off with the midtempo song “Love’s in Need of Love.” And despite a solid set that included his 1971 hit “Superstition,” the crowd was largely heading for the exits, and we weren’t far behind. The show is available on demand right here —http://tidal.com/us — but far more importantly, you can donate here: https://go.tidal.com/us/donation.