The first time I saw Jay Z was the summer of 2003 on tour with 50 Cent. Though Jay was the nominal headliner, the rappers arrived in Toronto at the height of Fiddy's "In Da Club" fame and he was who everyone was clearly there to see.
But even though it was still months before Jay Z's landmark "Black Album" was released, the MC proceeded to mop the floor with the bullet-riddled upstart, dropping hit after hit and proving how important a deep catalogue is in concert.
In recent years, Jay Z has returned to co-headliner tours -- first with Kanye as their collab Watch the Throne, then on last year's Legends of the Summer tour with Justin Timberlake and now he's back with On The Run alongside his beloved bride, Beyonce.
Thing is, Jay Z no longer outshines his tourmates.
Jay was actually back in fine form at last night's tour stop at Toronto's Rogers Centre. Perhaps not as competitively driven as he was with Watch the Throne, but certainly not the haggard mess that was overshadowed by JT (or as we put it at the time, Justin Timberlake Is Frank to Jay-Z's Dean).
But Jay is married to Queen Bey and the legendary rapper wasn't capable of keeping up. He seemed more like her hype man. Or to continue the royal analogy, her Prince Phillip. This may seem like a slight, but it's not intended to. Rather, it's an acknowledgment of Beyonce's current place in the musical firmament.
Appropriately enough, On the Run is marathon concert with a setlist of 42 (!) songs that trace the pair's solo and sporadic collaborative hits over the years. After a silly black & white film clip that set them up as a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde (and which, unfortunately returned regularly through the concert to kill momentum), they emerged in a cloud of smoke to perform "'03 Bonnie and Clyde." This soon segued into "Upgrade U" and their greatest collab "Crazy in Love."
Soon enough, though, they began taking turns disappearing under the stage so the other could deliver solo hits, and this is where Jay Z had the somewhat thankless job of basically being the rap hook on a concert-long R&B song.
Jay-Z's success is based on intricate, bare bones rapping, which is hard to convey in a stadium. Some of the tunes had strong enough music to bring the crowd in, like "Tom Ford," "Hard Knock Life" and "Lucifer" or were iconic enough for rap-a-longs, like "99 Problems," "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" and "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," but even these moments seemed small once Beyonce returned. (It didn't help that many of his best lines were from Kanye collabs "Diamonds from Sierra Leone," "Clique," "No Church in the Wild" and "N----s in Paris" which suffered from necessarily being snippets.)
Meanwhile, with an army of backup dancers, countless costume changes (ranging from an assless leotard, to cutoff jeans, to a wedding dress) and her peerless ability to sing and dance simultaneously, B easily proved why she's so critically and commercially successful.
She blazed through a diverse setlist that ranged from "Drunk In Love," "Run the World (Girls)" and "Ring the Alarm," to "Love on Top," "Naughty Girl" and "Flawless." And each time she returned following a Jay Z tune it injected fire into the proceedings -- often literally, as Bey hogged the pyro. Beyonce even killed Lauryn Hill's "Ex-Factor" while perfectly tackling Timberlake's section of "Holy Grail."
I actually saw a tough looking dude in a ball cap and tank singing along to "Pretty Hurts," which is as good an example of her supreme power as I could imagine
The pair finally got back together toward the end of the 2.5+ hour show for a mash-up of Jay's "Young Forever" and Bey's "Halo," which was accompanied by video footage of the proud parents playing with Blue Ivy. It was adorable, made more so by their wide grins.
As they walked off, all I kept thinking about was Jay's boast in "Public Service Announcement" that he's "got the hottest chick in the game wearin' my chain." Maybe so, but a concert like this makes it clear who runs the world.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: