It’s not many times that we’re blessed to have the blood of kings and queens amongst us in the Charm City, but Thursday, August, 29th was one of those rare occasions when the Queen of Hip Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige, along with NAS co-headlined their Royalty Tour at the Royal Farms Arena.
With both MJB and NAS taking the stage, there wasn’t even a need for a supporting act, because let’s be serious, nobody would have wanted to see them anyways. After a brief video introduction where both artists spent the time giving major props to one another, the arose from the stage together, dressed in all white, standing back-to-back in their best New York city stance.
Opening the show with their new joint song “Thriving” was an extremely calculated, and well played idea. With the fact that many artists don’t survive past their sophomore projects, seeing that both are celebrating the silver anniversary of their quintessential albums “Illmatic” and “My Life” , tells a major story and shows that they are thriving, indeed. After delivering a few joint songs together, the queen gracefully bowed off stage to allow Queensbridge’s Finest to do his thing, and that he did. Kicking his solo set off with “It Ain’t Hard To Tell“, NAS took us on a lyrical journey through life, hardships and triumphs, all which we have watched him survive through the public eye since hitting the scene in 1994. Just like his bars, his set seemed to flow fluidly like water, touching upon all of his major hits, including “Hate Me Now“, “Got Yourself A Gun“, “World Is Yours” and “If I Ruled The World“.
In-between one of his songs, he had mentioned that he’s been coming to Baltimore since a youth to spend summers with his family who lived here and had an immense love for the city. A love which was clearly reciprocated back by the many “Bravehearts” (this name to his tribe of loyal fans) who were in attendance and singing word for word, as if they were in their car vibing out to a personal concert. And it wasn’t just the fellas either, as every woman had to put their phone down and began grinding when the beginning beat to “Oochie Wally” kicked in. Backed by a DJ, keys, drum and guitar, the songs performed all came to life, with a fresh 2010’s edge to each track.
Concluding his show with the heartfelt “One Mic“, the blue stage lights illuminating from the stage onto the sea of melanin in the crowd, created a visual that was amazing to see.
During a brief intermission, where the stage was blackened, a Puff Daddy lead video interlude played on the large LED screen, with the beat to “What’s The 411” riding in the background. This served as a seamless set change over for everyone’s favorite homegirl. Bopping out with the same type of energy that she had in her 1997 video, Mary took a stoop on the steps and dug right into her classic “I Can Love You“. Not too long after, she was joined by two male and two female background dancers, adding the 90’s dance flare to her single “The One“. Speaking on dancing, when one goes to a MJB concert, we usually don’t necessarily go for the dancing, although the “Mary dance” (which made the Baltimore crowd go nuts), has become quite iconic in its’ own right over the years…this was the MOST that I have seen Mary just let loose and get into the choreography along with the dancers, and I loved every minute of it. It exposed a certain level of freeness in her life that apparently has spilled over into craft, because even though she’s 25+ years into her career, you can see her stage presence continues to evolve, aging like fine wine.
After a brief costume change, Blige celebrated the 25th anniversary of her sophomore album, “My Life,” with a medley of fan favorite songs from 1994, that began with “Mary Jane (All Night Long)”, “I Love You“, “You Bring Me Joy”, and “You Gotta Believe”. For tracks that proved to be the bigger hits from the album, such as “Be Happy” and “I’m Goin’ Down“, Mary let the fans do the heavy lifting by turning the songs into a sing-a-long, and they sang with so much force, that the roof was almost rattling from their unified voices.
Although Mary has become the voice of a generation, she’s not out there doing it alone, as she’s supported by a five piece band, and three background singers, who could absolute blow. We all know what this woman has been through, and she made an attempt to expel all of the negativity through her dramatic performance of “No More Drama“, where she stood alone in the middle of a smoke filled stage, almost crying her soul out through her vocals as she jumped around the stage before falling out, looking broken and battered. Appearing down and out, her next selection “Just Fine“, an upbeat track that you can’t help but to sing OR dance to, served as the redemption that “put her back together” again.
For the very last song of the night, NAS rejoined MJB on stage, rocking a throwback Baltimore O’s jersey to perform “Family Affair“, which was an appropriate close to the show, because for the two hour running time, everyone in attendance served as one big family, in this dancery.
Despite both artists reigning from New York, their love for the Charm City is evidently thick, with NAS visiting the city for years, and MJB mentioning that a huge core of her fan base are from Bmore. To give some tangible meaning to their love, Royal Farms Arena and Live Nation in conjunction with Mayor Jack Young announced a portion of the proceeds from the concert will be donated to the Liberty Rec and Tech Center in Baltimore.