Review by Gordon Justesen

Directors: Pat Paulsen, Michael John Warren
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: April 5, 2005

"I was on the biggest stage in the world, with some of the biggest stars in music. This was the ultimate dream growing up in Brooklyn. I went from Marcy to Madison Square."


Film ***1/2

It was a move that was seldom seen, or even conceived, in the music industry, let alone hip hop. One of rap music's most powerful figures, Jay-Z, announced that he would be releasing one more album before going into early retirement. Here was a man who was sitting on top of the world, with millions of records sold and undying respect from fans (including yours truly), and made a decision to leave the game at the right time.

In my opinion, one cannot be a fan of rap music and at least not have some level of admiration for Jay. His process of making music is awe inspiring in every way shape and form. He is perhaps the only recording artist that I've seen who can make a song without writing a single word on a piece of paper. The songs are already set in his mind, and he delivers his lyrics then and there. I'm not lying when I say that the man is a musical genius.

Jay's last album would also be his best album to date, The Black Album. If there was ever a perfect farewell album to an artist who was considering retirement, this one was it. For an artist who had put out many memorable albums, from 96's Reasonable Doubt to 98's Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life to 2001's The Blueprint, one can't help but be blown away by the production value of Jay's swan-song release. The album's 9th track, "99 Problems" is one of the most explosive songs ever produced...credit Jay and legendary producer Rick Rubin for that.

Fade to Black is a significant account of two things: Jay's production of The Black Album in the studio, and a massive retirement concert at Madison Square Garden in November of 2003, around the time of the album's release. There were plenty of guests on hand at the show, but Jay's name was all that was needed for the venue to sell out in four minutes flat.

The notion that the concert was being held at The Garden was a big deal for hip hop. It was a popular setting for all other types of music, yet the hip hop scene had yet to see its crowning moment. That all changed with Jay's monumental concert. It was even a bigger moment for the rapper himself, as his lifelong dream of making it out of the Marcy Projects all the way to Madison Square had finally become a reality.

Fans of Jay will no doubt get into the show right from the start, as almost everyone of his tracks are performed on stage. Among the show-stopping moments include performances of jams such as "Big Pimpin", "H.I.Z.Z.O", the bombastic "Jigga What?" and the outstanding "Encore", a song that reflects the fans' love for Jay's presence on stage.

Several guests make surprise appearances. Beyonce pops up to perform her duet with Jay, "Crazy in Love", as does Missy Elliott and Twista for "Is That Your Chick?". Jay's longtime cohorts Memphis Bleek, Beanie Siegel and Freeway also share some stage time. Lastly, it's kinda strange seeing R. Kelly on stage with Jay, in light of the recent feud ignited between the two after Kelly was kicked off their recent tour.

Fade to Black might be an enthralling film from the perspective of a longtime Jay-Z fan, but if you're unfamiliar with any of his music, I highly recommend a look at this. You may just be awestruck by Jay's musical process, which is purely unmatched if you ask me. As a concert film, it's a most thrilling and show-stopping experience.  

Video ***

The anamorphic job, courtesy of Paramount, is a most visually striking presentation. The downright best looking moments lie within the concert footage, where every visual element is precise and extravagant right down to the color of the stage lights. Some documentary footage doesn't turn up as good, with some occasional grain in the mix, which is to be expected. To sum it up, the presentation is a good enough balance.

Audio ****

Concert films always seem to bring the best of DVD audio to any surround sound system, and Paramount's 5.1 mix executes it with a vengeance. The music, which is the main ingredient in the film, explodes through the speakers full throttle. It's hard to distinguish the best music moment, because all of them are nothing short of fantastic in the sound department. Scenes away from the stage fare quite good, in addition in terms of dialogue delivery.

Features **1/2

Featured on this disc is a bonus documentary titled "The Story Behind Fade to Black", as well as a video for the song "Encore", one deleted scene and a trailer.


Fade to Black illustrates everything there is to admire about Jay-Z, from musical creation to live performing to the effect he has on his fans, which I of course can relate to. If you're a fan of the man once known as HOVA, you shouldn't hesitate to check this out.

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