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Few rappers can make an entrance like Jay-Z.

He didn't just take the stage -- he set a timer first.

Before his sold-out show began last night at 1st Mariner Arena, the THX sound effect boomed through the speakers and digital clocks displayed on the big screens started counting down from 10 minutes. When time ran out, the curtain was pulled back, revealing Jay-Z's tight 10-piece band and a screen shaped like the New York City skyline.

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He didn't just walk onto the stage, either. He rose from the floorboards, wearing black shades, black pants, a black shirt and a black leather jacket.

Now that's an entrance.

The rest of the show was everything you'd expect from one of hip-hop's superstars: Swaggering, bragging and furious verses. Jay-Z dominated the mike, and the audience loved nearly every minute of it ...

When Jay-Z told them to bounce, they bounced. When he told them to make some noise, they made some noise, chanting "HOVA" and making his trademark diamond-shaped hand sign. Here is a link to a photo gallery from the show.

Jay-Z's performance was a 90-minute hit parade that toured through "The Black Album," "Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life" and the rapper's latest No. 1 album (his 11th to debut at No. 1, which surpasses Elvis' record, he reminded us last night), "The Blueprint 3."

Longtime collaborator Memphis Bleek joined Jay-Z for much of the show, J. Cole guested on "Every Day A Star Is Born" and singer Bridget Kelly easily held down Alicia Key's parts on "Empire State of Mind."

The highlights: "Jigga What, Jigga Who" was just dirty; Jay-Z nailed it. "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" had an easygoing groove. And Pharrell joined Jay-Z for a solid performance of the brass heavy, high-stepping "So Ambitious."Jay-Z had the band fade out at the end of several songs so he could deliver the last verse and chorus a capella, which gave the words even more weight.

The show's only stumble was the long, rambling finish. Jay-Z might know how to get a performance rolling, but he had trouble wrapping things up last night.

During the encore, he took about 15 minutes to give shout outs to strangers in the crowd, identifying them by what they were wearing. If you weren't up front, it was incredibly boring, and unsurprisingly, people started leaving early.

Finally, Jay-Z closed out the show with a so-so rendition of "Forever Young" and saluted the crowd while being lowered back down below the stage. Endings aside, last night's show was definitely one for the books.

The opening acts weren't too shabby, either. Washington's own Wale, who looks to be the most promising rapper to come out of the District, warmed up the audience with some heavy-hitting hip-hop (and even a little go-go). During his last song, Wale strode out into the crowd, shaking hands and greeting folks. When his debut "Attention: Deficit" drops Nov. 10, he might not need to introduce himself anymore.

N.E.R.D. hit the stage after Wale, delivering an intense set of rap/funk/hip-hop. Their songs, which seemed too progressive for the crowd, changed tempos more than Madonna changes outfits. The only track that really brought down the house was their closer, Pharrell's "Drop it Like It's Hot."

(Baltimore Sun photos by Kenneth K. Lam)

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