Speculation about Jay-Z's opening night at Barclays Center began as soon as it was announced.
How star-studded an affair would he plan to celebrate the opening of a $1 billion arena only a few subway stops away from the Marcy projects where he grew up? Would his wife, Beyoncé, be pressed into duty? How about his friends, so famous they only need one name -- Kanye, Rihanna, Mary J.? Would the Obamas show? Would he resurrect The Notorious B.I.G. with a hologram?
Nah. This was personal. This show Friday night -- the first of eight running through Saturday -- was about Shawn Carter aka Jay-Z aka Hova aka Brooklyn Nets part-owner aka Barclays Center part-owner aka President Carter.
This was about his journey from drug dealer to one of the biggest stars in the world and a captain of industry, as the Rocawear store and the 40/40 Club in the arena attest.
"I think every single person in the world is born with genius-level talent," he told the crowd of around 20,000, adding that everyone needed to find his or her own talent. "I ain't no different from anyone here tonight."
He then launched into "Young Forever" to cap an unusual, nearly two-hour show that was often emotional, but also surprisingly bruising. Before leaving the stage, he added, "Brooklyn, it's our turn."
It's a sentiment echoed throughout the arena, from the borough's first major league team since the Dodgers left in 1957 down to the concession stands offering Brooklyn-made products. It's also a sentiment that echoed throughout his set, in his many tributes to the late Brooklyn rapper The Notorious B.I.G., including a rap-along to Biggie's "Juicy" so loud and so on point it could only have happened in his hometown.
Jay-Z wasn't really performing. He can be far flashier and far more entertaining than he was. His flow, while still impressive, can be crisper -- though the slight hesitations came when he seemed to be holding back his feelings.
The sole guest of the night was Big Daddy Kane, the old-school rapper from Bed-Stuy who gave Jay-Z his very first break in the music business. "We have to understand our history," Jay-Z said, after Kane's smooth three-song set. "Brooklyn legend."
Jay-Z's opening night will be part of history, too, part of Brooklyn legend. It will go down as the night Jay let his guard down, the night he finally looked back and saw how far he has come.