Fade to Black

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Documenting Jay-Z's "final concert" to a sold-out Madison Square Garden, Fade to Black is an uplifting goodbye to one of rap's true greats, and touching enough to forgive the Who-styled trick the rapper pulled by saying goodbye at the Garden once more after this show. Twenty-plus cameras captured the show in fine style for the most part, the exception being what looks like a stunning concert kick-off but the cameras are in too close to really tell. After that, everything works. While not a groundbreaking maverick like Stop Making Sense, Fade to Black displays a keen sense of composition when it comes to camera work, which is all the more impressive when you consider the breakneck speed of the show and the overflowing guest list. The guest list? It's huge, going from Beyonce all the way down to Freeway with Ghostface, Missy Elliot, Twista, Slick Rick, and just about every rapper who's ever even been to NYC turning up for the tribute/party. The man himself starts off with a little crack in his voice (choked up?) but soon overcomes it and works the crowd like one of the finest showmen in any genre. The end of the show is more triumphant than "sad to see him go." That's the amazing thing about Fade to Black. Save a couple heartfelt "I'll miss the game" moments from Jay-Z, the documentary doesn't beat the viewer over the head with any heavy "what a loss" moments. Instead, it drops behind-the-scenes, cutaway segments of the making of the man's final full-length, The Black Album, that are exciting and filled with life. Upon its theatrical release, plenty of fans felt the cutaways diminished the impact of the concert, but they add a bittersweet pacing to the film, delaying the inevitable goodbye while flushing out Jay-Z's personality, which could be labeled as "approachable genius." His banter about gangsta rap, his gushing about the genius of Rick Rubin, and the amazing sequence showing the creation of the "99 Problems" track would be sorely missed if edited out of the film. Deeper than a mere concert film, Fade to Black is a testament to true genius from a man who took hip-hop all the way to the Garden.