Mary J. Blige and Nas brought their “Royalty” tour to Atlanta Monday night, a show that tested the knees and spines of an enthusiastic audience.
This was a stand-up-and-sing-along show. Seating was rarely required.
Anyone expecting to hear Blige, the headliner in what’s billed as a co-headlining tour, deliver signature lines from classic hits such as “You Remind Me,” “I Can Love You” and “Be Happy“ may have been mildly disappointed.
In a set that lasted nearly 90 minutes, Blige frequently turned her microphone to the crowd to let the audience sing during many of her signature hooks and runs and some of her iconic verses.
“I shoulda left your ass a thousand times,” from “Not Gon’ Cry,” was delivered by the audience, not Blige. You’re a Mary J. Blige fan because she can deliver that gut-punch of a line like few others.
But clearly Monday night was not about Blige proving she remains a formidable live vocalist. The pioneering and still reigning queen of hip-hop soul was there to celebrate a career with the most loyal Blige devotees, who appeared content with being in her company and with Blige leading them through a catalogue of hits that date back to 1992.
Ticket buyers endured delay in seeing the pair – The “Royalty Tour” concert had been slated for July 16 at Cadence Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park – and, on Monday night, rain.
Despite the mild weather inconvenience, it appeared the move paid off for promoters, as the larger Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood was mostly full.
Blige and Nas opened and closed the show together. It opened with the underrated “Braveheart Party” and closed with Nas and Blige’s “Love is All We Need.”
In between, Nas’ 45-minute set ripped through the classics and sprinkled in a song or two from his recently released album, “The Lost Tapes II.”
For all of the bravado that is the foundation of hip-hop, Nas has long stood as an exception –
an artist who has laid bare weakness. Nas’ music has touched on the pain of divorce and the anxiety induced by being a working artist and a largely absent father.
He has wondered aloud how his embrace of the hedonistic impulses of hip-hop undercuts his credibility as a parent.
Nas the prophet and Nas the street poet were both on display Monday night. A highlight was “I Know I Can,” an anthem of youth empowerment, where Nas, backed by a chorus of children, encourages young people to live their dreams. That was followed by “Got Ur Self a Gun” and his closing song, “One Mic,” where Nas paints a searing and grim picture of urban gun violence.
During a break Monday night he praised Atlanta as a place that has produced “some of the greatest artists and intellectuals.”
“… But I love the ghetto, though,” he said to a crowd fully attuned to the dichotomy.
This year marks the 25th anniversary for two groundbreaking albums, Nas’ debut “Illmatic” and Blige’s sophomore album “My Life.”
While “What’s the 411,” introduced the world to Blige, “My Life” was the album that gave the world blond Mary. Wounded Mary. Defiant Mary. Determined Mary.
It’s that Mary who filled Lakewood Monday night. That Mary has spent a career giving voice to the joys, fears, frustrations and desires of black women.
The women who came to see her Monday night knew every word to every song, perhaps as much as Blige. They were there to sing along.
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