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Originally published Friday, December 10, 2004 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Documentary captures rapper not ready for retirement

Add hip-hop superstar Jay-Z to the list of music celebrities who may have changed their minds about retirement and that "farewell" concert. Luminaries such as the Who, the Rolling...

Special to The Seattle Times

Add hip-hop superstar Jay-Z to the list of music celebrities who may have changed their minds about retirement and that "farewell" concert. Luminaries such as the Who, the Rolling Stones, Cher and Bette Midler have all announced they were hanging it up, only to make comeback albums and hit the road again for their adoring fans.

"Fade to Black" documents Jay-Z's self-proclaimed final concert: a grand affair, celebrating his career-capping "Black Album," that took place before a sold-out crowd at New York's Madison Square Garden in November 2003. But anyone who follows celebrity news knows that Jay-Z was back at the Garden just a few months ago, performing without R. Kelly after a fracas during their joint tour.

Whatever the outcome of Jay-Z's musical future or the upshot of his personal rivalries, "Fade to Black" stands as a powerful record of a truly historic event in the annals of rap. Muttering offhand narration with bored, streetwise affect, Jay-Z hails the concert as a momentous occasion for being the first time a hip-hop show was allowed to headline at the Garden.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer

"Fade to Black," a documentary with Jay-Z. Directed by Patrick Paulson and Michael John Warren. 109 minutes. Rated R for pervasive language including sexual lyrics. Meridian.

It's unlikely that viewers unfamiliar with Jay-Z and his Roc-A-Fella Records stable of artists will feel the full impact of the live performances. The uninitiated may also have a hard time trying to identify the series of visitors who trade raps on Jay-Z's stage. Included in the star-studded lineup are Missy Elliott, Foxy Brown, Pharrell Williams, Ghostface Killah, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek and R. Kelly (who was still Jay-Z's pal at the time). One unmistakable figure — and I do mean figure — is Jay-Z's main squeeze, Beyoncé, who raises the temperature and the roof with her skimpy outfit, flowing hair, soulful yowl and sexed-up dance routine.

Twenty cameras captured the concert. Some of the most powerful sequences include sweeping moves across the swirling, blissed-out masses as they lip sync along in perfect unison with Jay-Z'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 for "The Black Album."

These amateurish home-video breaks may give some insight into Jay-Z's perfectionism and dedication to his craft, but they detract from the visceral power of the beautifully executed performance footage.

Jay-Z will hardly be gone or forgotten after this last-gasp concert film and "retirement" album (DJ Dangermouse's super-cool bootleg "Grey Album" remix on the Internet offers a wild new bearing on the Jay-Z experience, combining the rapper's "Black Album" with the Beatles' "White Album").

There's no way his legion of followers will let him fade to black, or anywhere else.

Ted Fry:

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