FADE TO BLACK takes a look at the rapperâ€™s career, providing a backstage glimpse during the concert and showing how his last album was conceived. Narrated by Jay-Z himself, the film features notable guest performances by Beyonce, Missy Elliott, Mary J. Blige, R. Kelly, Pharrell Williams, Foxy Brown and appearances by P. Diddy and 2004 Grammy-winner Kanye West. Fade to Black
is a document of Jay-Zâ€™s self-proclaimed final concert; a grand affair that took place before a sold-out crowd at New Yorkâ€™s Madison Square Garden in November 2003. (But anyone who follows celebrity news knows that Jay-Z was out of retirement and back performing at the Garden just a year later.) Fade to Black
is a legitimately powerful record of a truly historic event in the annals of rap. Muttering offhand narration with typical bored, streetwise affect, Jay hails the concert as a momentous occasion for being the first time a hip-hop show was allowed to headline at the Garden.
Itâ€™s unlikely that the full impact of the live performances will hit home to viewers unfamiliar with Jay-Z and his Roc-A-Fella Records stable of artists. Another frustration is trying to identify the array of visitors who trade raps on Jayâ€™s stage. Included in the star-studded lineup are Missy Elliott, Foxy Brown, Pharell, Ghostface Killah, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, and R. Kelly. One unmistakable figure--and we do mean figure--is Jayâ€™s squeeze Beyonce, who raises the temperature and the roof with her skimpy outfit, flowing hair, soulful yowl, and sexed-up dance routine that leaves her boyfriend and the whole of Madison Square Garden slack-jawed with animal desire.
Twenty cameras captured the event, and some of the most powerful sequences are sweeping moves across the swirling, blissed-out masses as they lip sync along in perfect unison with Jay-Zâ€™s complex, profane, quick-witted raps. Less effective are intermittent cutaway segments that show the artist in various studio settings working up beats and rhymes. These amateurish home video breaks may give some insight to Jayâ€™s perfectionism and dedication to his craft, but they detract from the visceral power of the beautifully executed performance footage. --Ted Fry