Jay-Z on 'Saturday Night Live': Big highs and a low

snl-jay-zImage Credit: Dana Edelson/NBCDid you catch Saturday Night Live this past weekend? What a display of graceful aging and show-biz longevity! Oh yeah, and Betty White wasn’t bad, either.

I kid because I love. Jay-Z is hardly elderly, but rap is for the most part a young man’s game. His 40 years feel just shy of White’s 88 in hip-hop terms. That makes performances like the first one he gave on this week’s SNL all the more impressive. How is it that a guy who’s already retired and un-retired once, a dude who’s voyaged to the corporate boardroom and back, has so much more stage presence and vitality than any other rapper alive?

Jay-Z’s first SNL number was an abbreviated version of what he’s been doing in concert lately: a killer medley of hits, kicking off with 2003’s undeniable “P.S.A.” and making his way to “99 Problems” and “Empire State of Mind” (a duet with singer Bridget Kelly), with snippets of “On to the Next One” and “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” thrown in to tease us. Consider how many SNL musical guests struggle to make even one song work on live TV. Jay made it look easy, conveying each lyric with flawless force. The man is a master. I wish he could have kept the medley going for another ten minutes.

Later in the show, however, Jay-Z returned with “Young Forever.” Talk about a letdown. At Coachella last month, Jay managed to save this otherwise treacly tune by bringing out Beyoncé to sing the Alphaville-sampling hook. On record and on SNL, that chorus was handled by wannabe soul man Mr. Hudson, who, let’s just say, is no Beyoncé. The English crooner sounded uncomfortably hoarse; every time that hook came around, he’d reliably miss one big note in particular. The only thing that partially redeemed this snooze was when Jay-Z sweetly dedicated the song to “the most incredible Betty White.”

But, hey, that medley was really awesome! What did you think of Jay-Z on Saturday Night Live? Can you recall ever seeing such a gap in quality between a musical guest’s first and second performances of the night?

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

More from EW.com’s Music Mix:
Who was that singing with Jay-Z on Saturday Night Live? Meet Bridget Kelly
Tim McGraw, Faith Hill organize “Nashville Rising” flood benefit show
Bassist Carlos Dengler leaves Interpol

Katy Perry’s “California Gurls”: The first mega-smash of the summer?
Muse announced as first artists on upcoming ‘Twilight: Eclipse’ soundtrack; more to come

Comments (181 total) Add your comment
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  • Peterbilt

    The whole thing was pretty lame.

    • Mark


      • Country Nash

        No it was lame. BTW, what kind of name is Mark? Are you some kinda carpet frier?

      • Not Mark

        Says the guy who goes by “Country Nash”…?

    • amadeline

      He was awful! People actually pay for his ‘music’?? Why? It’s not even real music. His first number was the low point of the show. Luckily someone who could sing drowned him out on the second number.

      • Matt

        Seriously? Just because you don’t listen to rap music doesn’t mean it’s not real music. Jay-Z is easily one of the best rappers ever, and he killed it on Saturday. Stop hating.

      • Peter

        amadeline, what do you consider “real music”?

      • kim

        What’s the point in commenting if you don’t even like the genre? It really doesn’t matter who was performing if you don’t even consider rap music. This goes beyond hate.

      • wino

        “real music” are you for real? what an obnoxious and rude comment.

      • Michelle

        Yes people obviously pay for his music. Just because you don’t buy it doesn’t mean no one else buys it. It’s called taste, preference, like… I’m pretty sure that everyone doesn’t run out and buy music that you like either. We have the freedom of choice, but why down something or someone you don’t like. Bet you were a bully in school, weren’t you?

      • southern boy

        you realize he has the most top 10 singles from 2000-2009 of any artist of any genre right.

      • Lakim Hill

        Rap is real music and not everyone samples. I am a rapper who also reads and writes music. Listen out, stop hating!

    • Blake

      THIS. It was made of suck.

      • ger

        Well done. Next time why not go for three overused annoying internet comment board words/phrases.

      • Scott

        You’re right ger, if only he had capped it with “FAIL,” he could have had the trifecta…

      • Bryguy1

        And if Blake were trying to be positive for the performance, he would have written, “Jay-Z pwned all others.” But seriously- I thought the second performance was ok, but that first one blew me away. When a rap artist can have a live band behind him (and this band was very tight) and control them like Jay-Z did, that’s skills.

      • couchgrouch

        if it’s considered a compliment just have a band behind you, music’s in sorry shape indeed. what a mess his “songs” were. zero talent.

      • Michelle

        @couch grouch – How can he have zero talent? How ridiculous of a statement. Perhaps you’re jealous because that’s how you feel about yourself?

      • couchgrouch

        you said nothing to disprove what I said. Jay-Z’s “song” was nothing more than yelling crap really fast over a very simple musical arrangement. zero talent. and trust me, that ain’t how I feel about myself.

      • The Vicster

        despite what you think, writing “songs” take a high vocabulary, strong creativity, and intellect. Rap songs even more than other songs because they fit so many images, cram packed into one song. Jay-Z has made hundreds of songs. I’d compel you to write ten, then say he has no talent.

    • sandra

      I’m in my 50’s so don’t really care much about rap but even I loved that first performance. Great band backing him up too.

      • Krisite Lee’s Horse

        Ditto. Loved it. Only performance this season I didn’t FFw’d through.

    • LOL

      Jay who? Boring.

      • Lakim Hill

        Stop Hating! What talent do you have?

    • chase

      Yeah dude, it sucked mannn!! I wished springsteen would have performend instead… (Lol) Idiot… GOD MC Jay Hova!!!

    • koker

      he was SO bad and his “thing” lasted about 10 minutes too long. i hit the fast forward button half way through the first whatever-the-hell-it-was and I was still bored senseless

      • Tisha

        You were senseless? Have you recovered?

      • saywhat

        … wish I had a fast forward button, will when I watch the tape and I will use it to zip through his part. Couldn’t understand a thing he said, sloppy … a more stripped down, less noise version and only one song at a time would have been better, to me.

    • Rosalie

      A group of friends and I were watching the show together. The firt part, we all disliked, it felt like it was falling apart. HIs second performance he did great. We were all very impressed, and when he dedicated the song to Betty White, we were all touched, one of my friends actually cried.

  • Rock Golf

    Haven’t seen Jay-Z 2nd performance yet. (Fell asleep!) But his first was magnificent.

    As for bigger drop-offs from first to 2nd song, how about Ashlee Simpson? On her 2nd appearance, they accidentally restarted the tape of her first song, and rather than re-lip-sync she just sort of lamely danced offstage.

    • Ian

      Did someone say Ashlee Simpson was music???

  • confidential

    I LOVED the 1st performance but I think what was wrong with Forever Young, is the song. It doesn’t necessarily suck but its really lackluster and kinda boring. It was played it a club last week and I’ve never seen so many ppl leave the dancefloor.

    • wino

      Forever Young is not a dance song, not sure why any club would be playing it.

      • Nelly

        “Forever Young” was written and performed by Alphaville and yes, it’s a club song. There are two versions. Look it up on Youtube. Jay-z covered this song.

      • Nelly

        And it’s a dance song!

      • Will

        Jay-Z didn’t cover the song idiot. He did what any hip hop artist does…use SAMPLES of a song. The verses to the song were HIS own, not Alphaville. So get it right.

    • Michelle

      It’s Young Forever people.

  • Ramo

    First performance was awesome, but the second was just awful. What a horrible choice. My friend and I were just wondering who the platinum blonde d-bag was and wondering why a cool cat like Jayz (BW shoutout) would be sharing a stage with him. Only good thing about it was that it was blissfully short.

  • chris87654

    I saw the 2nd JayZ song and thought it was lame – as I would have had I seen the first one. Always the same tired beat with different words – there’s no musical way to distinguish an old rap “song” from a new one.

    • Tisha

      It would probably be more accurate for you to say “you” could not distinguish… You can’t speak on what others can do! Maybe you should have your hearing checked. Just a thought.

    • Fatima

      This might be the most moronic comment of the year.

  • justin

    Think I’m the only one out there who thinks this, but Jay Z is pretty overrated. All glitz, no substance. Give me some Mos any day.

    • Blake

      You’re not, I think he’s terrible too.

    • Kevin

      I agree 100%… I like a lot of hip-hop but I’ve always found his music to be extremely lame. However, he is a really nice guy… met him at Ray’s Pizza in NYC way back in the 90s and he was pretty darn cool.

      • Michelle

        Lame? Plz

    • MIKE

      You know I think Jay-Z is great when he guests on someone else’s song, or has someone with him, and he’s an excellent producer, but… he is not a great rapper. Anyone who thinks he is is not paying attention to those who are great rappers. Again, I like Jay-Z, just don’t care to hear him rap.

      • CallingOutBS

        Jay-Z is the best rapper and he’s proven this. Look at the numbers. You must have never heard a good portion of his work to judge or your definition of a great rapper is seriously flawed!

      • max

        Numbers doesn’t mean someone is great. I’m a Hova fan but I was a bit disappointed with his SNL set.

      • southern boy

        im sorry, but what you typed was bull, how can you say Jay Z isnt a great rapper, thats like saying Micheal Jackson wasnt a great entertainer.

    • Tisha

      To each his own. How would you like it if someone said you’re overrated doing your job. Not too good, right? Just listen to what you like and be happy, k?

      • Tisha

        And his bank account begs to differ at just how overrated you think he is? He’s the man and if you don’t care for him or his music, there’s tons of others to listen to.

  • couchgrouch

    his “singing” sounded like an auctioneer at a sale barn, just with more BS. just a bunch of nonsense spit out like a speed freak. and whoa, how did he come up with the title “Young Forever”? really original.

    • suze

      there is a song called forver young the took a sample from….and i believe the Mr Hudson that is so dismissively talked about was the lead singer of the band for the original song….how old is everyone here by the way?

      • Blake

        Her question was sarcastic, because his title is name of the song he took the (generous) sampling from, with the two words reversed. Rather uninspired and NOT original.

      • djse

        Actually, Mr. Hudson has nothing to do with Alphaville (the band that originally released “Forever Young” back in 1984).

      • SNL Fan

        Wrong. Mr. Hudson is not the lead singer for Alphaville. Forever Young debuted in 1984, way before his time – he was 5 years old. Just how old are you, suze?

      • jaded1

        The song should remain as the prom theme for Napoleon Dynamite and never be uttered again.

    • couchgrouch

      Forever Young’s a Dylan song from Planet Waves. it’s the theme song to Parenthood. the best version is his guitar/vocal demo on Biograph. Jay-Z’s “song” was a joke.

      • Emme

        Alphaville’s Forever Young is not the same song as Dylan’s (unlike Rod Stewart’s “subconscious” re-write in ’88) The only thing Alphaville’s and Dylan’s have in common is the actual phrase “forever young”.

      • Michelle

        Yeah and he’s laughing all the way to the bank!

      • couchgrouch

        Alphaville can’t write…their Forever Young is worthless. and yeah, they made plunny o’ munny…which only proves talent is totally unnecessary in modern music.

      • Shawn

        I’m going to assume that couchgrouch is Andy Rooney’s user tag since he just called a song that came out in 1984 ‘modern music’. Andy, how can you claim to be a music fan and be totally dismissive of an entire genre? You can like more than one thing you know. Around my office/house I have framed records from Springsteen, Dylan, Ray Charles, Jay Z, the Foo Fighters, MIA, a few indie bands (Jukebox the Ghost, OCMS, fun., Anathallo), and Coltrane just to name a few. Broaden your horizons, crotchey-ness will get your nowhere.

    • Scratch

      So what your saying is you didn’t have the mental capacity to decipher or keep up with his lyrics… They should have run the lyrics across the screen like Dr. Seuss

    • Jaylyn

      RDi1Yi Good point. I hadn’t thoghut about it quite that way. :)

  • Alex

    I generally fast forward through the musical acts to watch the comedy. I have NO interest in Jay-Z. I was tuning into see Betty White, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

    • Michelle

      And your point is?

      • bunker

        She watches for the comedy. Dumbass.

  • the girl

    personally I loved both performances equally. Forever Young is one of my favorite songs from the album and it really showcases the longevity of Jay-Z’s career. He deserves to bask in the glory of his two-decades in the industry. And, I thought Mr. Hudson used his voice, although raspy, quite well.

    • Michelle

      Uh… it’s Young Forever… thought you said it was one of your favorite songs…

      • Shawn

        Meet Michelle everyone. The girl who has never misspoke.

      • Bubi

        hhEjF3 I’m not esialy impressed. . . but that’s impressing me! :)

  • tim

    I don’t ‘get’ the whole jay-z thing. It’s just ho-hum. Just another rapper.

    • Michelle

      Clearly Jay-Z is not just another rapper just as you are not just another person named tim. Good grief. He has nothing to prove to anyone and why do you have to get him. Keep it movin’, k?

      • hhdr

        Only idiots have something to say to everyone.

  • talulah

    listening to J-Z must be what life is like in hell. it was torture

    • Bryguy1

      That is why you have a mute button. Don’t hate on someone because you don’t appreciate the music.

      • Vonceil

        I agree with yoyur Bryguy1 – either mute or change the channel

  • mags

    Missed the performance. Wish you posted links to performance in your review.

  • HC

    Prefer a rock band on SNL.

    • Michelle

      So sorry you didn’t get your 2 cents in.

  • Sheena

    Quite honestly, Forever Young is one of my faves, though the Jay-Z Young Forever version is jarring IMO and not very good. Though I think that the Mr Hudson version is so much better than the Beyonce trilling done at Cochella. I could barely stand listening to it when I saw it on You Tube, and I normally like Beyonce!
    That said, I think Jay-Z was very gracious in dedicating it to Betty White, my only wish was to see them in a sketch together!

    • CallingOutBS

      I too did not like what Beyonce did, but hey, that’s just how she sings everything. She used vibrato when it was meant to be sung with none.

  • Borg

    It was the lamest performance I have ever seen. I had to mute the tv both times he was playing because it sounded like a mix between animals being murdered and a gorilla giving birth.

    • CallingOutBS

      What a lame comment… why bother?

    • Michelle

      Now where did you see a gorilla giving birth? Lamest you’ve ever seen? You don’t get out much do you?

      • Maureen

        Michelle, you crack me up! ;)

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