After erupting from Brooklyn’s rough-and-tumble Marcy Housing Projects to break through as a recording artist in 1996, Jigga’s initial efforts as a showman were probably better intended than received. “All my early years? Forget it. I was a horrible performer,” Jay said, admitting he learned it the hard way from DMX during a co-headlining tour in 1998. “DMX tore me to pieces. I remember being stunned.”

Through a combination of competitive urgency and the kind of icy professionalism for which he has become known, Jay-Z diagnosed what needed to be done. Namely, highlighting his nimble lyricism by frequently rapping a cappella and executing blustery moves like running through the audience while delivering rhymes that raised the bar on DMX’s macho, shirt-off stage posturing.