Nashville – Billed as the Best of Both Worlds, the ill-fated co-headlining tour by Jay-Z and R. Kelly ended up with two worlds colliding.
The tour’s implosion – at least as a co-headlining attraction – puts a damper on what could have been one of the year’s top-grossing R&B music outings, with a gross potential of about $30 million.
Jay-Z is continuing without Kelly under the banner of Jay-Z & Friends. With such marquee artists as Mary J. Blige and P. Diddy in tow, the tour could still be a big winner.
But few would argue that Best of Both Worlds represents the worst way to combine R&B and hip-hop on a tour, since it has devolved into a tale of oversize egos and missed financial opportunity.
Paradoxically, amid the feuding, Kelly and Jay-Z bow at the top of the Billboard 200 this week with their second joint release, “Unfinished Business” (Jive/Def Jam/IDJMG). The duo’s highest-charting collaboration opened with U.S. sales of 215,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
The tour fared less well. What was supposed to be a 40-city double bill started out badly in late September and was seriously derailed a month in, with Kelly booted off the tour for what Jay-Z labeled “lack of professionalism and unpredictable behavior.”
Finger-pointing and a lawsuit soon followed, and the financial and legal issues are likely to take months – if not years – to resolve.
In an opening salvo, Kelly filed a $75 million lawsuit against Jay-Z and promoter Atlanta Worldwide Touring, seeking $15 million in compensatory damages and $60 million in punitive damages.
Kelly’s breach-of-contract suit accuses Jay-Z and his associates of threats and violence that turned the trek into “a nightmare.”
The suit attempts to explain why Kelly was late for some shows, citing issues with the tour’s lighting and production. It also alleges that Jay-Z’s “spite and jealousy toward R. Kelly’s superior audience draw and tour profit share” caused Jay-Z to use threats and violence to force Kelly off the tour through a “pattern of wrongful conduct.”
But a source close to the Jay-Z camp tells Billboard that the troubles began before the tour even started.
“The problems began right up front, because R. Kelly never went to any rehearsals before the first Chicago shows,” the source says. “Any problems with the lighting were because (Kelly) didn’t even show up for any of the tech rehearsals, so the lighting crew had to wing it.”
In an e-mail to Billboard, Edward Hayes, attorney for Kelly, describes the tour as “a commercial success.” Of the dispute, he says, “There were frictions over the lighting, which was run by Jay-Z and which Kelly felt was inadequate and used to favor Jay-Z against (Kelly).”
Problems escalated on the tour, which began Sept. 29-30 in Kelly’s hometown, Chicago, with packed houses at All-State Arena. The first of three sold-out performances (Oct. 29-Nov. 1) at Madison Square Garden in New York saw the tour seriously run aground. Not surprisingly, the Jay-Z and R. Kelly camps disagree on what happened.
At the opening-night performance, Kelly abruptly left the stage after telling the audience he saw two men in the crowd with guns.
Kelly says that backstage a short time later, a member of Jay-Z’s entourage sprayed him and three of his bodyguards in the face with pepper spray.
A security sweep of the arena failed to find any weapons, and the show resumed without problems as Jay-Z performed with guests Usher and Mary J. Blige.
Jay-Z issued a statement through his record label, Island Def Jam, saying it was Kelly who created a “dangerous situation” by claiming to have seen guns in the audience. The statement said it was “the equivalent of screaming ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”
Kelly’s complaint was brought Nov. 1 in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. On Oct. 30 and Nov. 1, Jay-Z returned to Madison Square Garden to perform without Kelly. That wrapped up a three-night stand that grossed $3.2 million.
THE NEW TOUR
Jay-Z has continued to perform on his own with special guests, including a Halloween show at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J.
The Jersey show featured Blige, P. Diddy, Kanye West, Slick Rick and others. Continental Airlines Arena general manager Ron Vandeveen says there were relatively few requests for refunds at the sold-out show.
The efforts of Jay-Z, who has a solid reputation in the touring industry, may lessen the blow for hip-hop tours, which seldom live up to the genre’s retail clout and have been plagued with a negative reputation, though it is often unwarranted.
With 50 Cent and Eminem
off the road, the Jay-Z/R. Kelly outing represented one of the best opportunities for an R&B/hip-hop bill to rank among the year’s top tours. The 19 shows reported to Billboard thus far grossed about $13 million.
If that pace had been maintained through the course of 40 dates, Jay-Z and R. Kelly could have grossed close to $30 million. By comparison, Usher took in $30 million from 42 shows, and the Beyonce-headlined Ladies First tour grossed $20.1 million, according to Billboard Boxscore.
Meanwhile, Jay-Z and company will soldier on and perform a total of 18 dates under the banner of Jay-Z & Friends. The tour will end Nov. 27 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.