TORONTO - Call it hip-hop heaven.
Mary J. Blige, the queen of hip-hop soul, and rapper-entrepreneur Jay-Z teamed up for a flashy double bill last night at the Air Canada Centre for their so-called Heart of the City tour.
And if this was urban music at it's finest, it was also at it's slickest and largest.
Performing on a huge stage that boasted an enormous curved LED screen that projected a cityscape at night among other images, dozens of musicians including a 12-person string section during Blige's set, some of the best lighting money can buy, and two chandeliers, the combined success of the two artists was evident.
This was bling times a hundred --easily.
Especially when the fireworks went off during both of the artist's sets.
Blige and Jay-Z, who have been close collaborators since 1996, when she appeared on his early hit Can't Knock the Hustle, decided to open with that tune last night before the belter -- that would be Blige -- took over for the first hour and 15 minutes, although Jay-Z made a brief appearance again in her set during Real Love.
Blige, dressed in a sparkly silver beaded jacket, black tights and black high-heeled boots, was -- for the most part -- her usual mighty Mary self.
She hit big, showy notes during You're All I Need, Feel Like a Woman, Stay Down, Not Gon' Cry, I'm Goin' Down, Just Fine, Be Without You, and a cover of the Rufus classic Sweet Thing, but it was the anthemic No More Drama that really shook the rafters of the hockey hangar as she did her trademark deep knee bends for emphasis.
The only cheesy part of Blige's set were some backup actors/dancers whose presence during Your Child and Work That, respectively, only detracted from the power of the songs.
Still, Blige's message during Your Child was a potent one as she told fathers to just tell their children that they loved them.
As for Jay-Z, the headlines this week are that he and girlfriend of six years Beyonce Knowles obtained a marriage licence in New York on Tuesday morning.
The couple have sparked wedding rumours previously and the paperwork is reportedly valid for 60 days, so who knows?
Otherwise, he immediately followed Blige's set, backed by a more scaled-down band that included a four-piece horn section and a turntablist -- where he later hung out briefly behind the decks to play snippets of past chart-toppers like his own Hard Knock Life and Beyonce's Crazy in Love -- but his hour-and-15-minute performance was no less dramatic.
If Blige was sweaty, thrilling emotion personified, Jay-Z was 100% effortless cool and swagger as he took the stage while a slow-motion clip of Reservoir Dogs played behind him.
Intially decked out in shades and a black leather jacket before changing into a more stylish light grey sports coat, he also whipped the audience into a frenzy with big hits like Show Me What You Got and 99 Problems.
And when Blige returned to the stage during his set for Song Cry, and then stayed there for her own Take Me As I Am, it became clear these two were raising the performance bar for each other, particularly when they returned as a united front during Jay-Z's encore to perform Heart of the City (Ain't No Love).