So Ambitious: Jay-Z fan talks about swapping hats with rap legend
Lesley Vareha of Ann Arbor had no doubts about it — that after last week's Jay-Z concert at Eastern Michigan, the rap legend would leave town wearing the Detroit Tigers hat she'd brought him as a gift.
In the weeks leading up to the concert at the EMU Convocation Center, Vareha planned every detail to ensure that she'd be noticed by a man she cites with inspiring her to push through setbacks to seek her dreams.
She bought a ticket in the inner-bowl, general admission section of the concert, then arrived early enough to work her way to the front of the crowd (so close that she was one of the women brought on stage during N.E.R.D.'s performance).
She custom-made a shirt with a mural of Jay-Z's face — this at a cost of $300.
And after searching the Internet in vain to learn the rapper's hat size, Vareha purchased a worn, autographed Jay-Z hat on eBay for $400 to learn it. (For the record, he wears 7 3/8).
But as one fan among a mass of 8,000 screaming fans, Vareha knew she'd have to do something incredible to stand out and get her Tigers hat on the rap legend's head.
Throughout the concert Vareha had been holding up a custom-made sign depicting the "dynasty sign" that's become Jay-Z's calling card.
The sign, not to mention the green eyes and bright smile of the woman carrying it, caught the rapper's eye a few times throughout the show. Whenever their eyes met, she'd point at her Detroit Tigers hat and back at the artist as if to say "this is for you."
"I see you've been holding me down all night," Jay-Z said to Vareha during his end-of-the-concert shout-outs. "It looks like you've been trying to do tell me something with that hat," he said.
Vareha took that as her cue. Immediately, she gave the hat to concert security who passed it to Jay-Z on stage.
"This is some bulls---," he joked before putting it on and mugging for the crowd. "Y'all won't see me do this too often; you better be taking some good pictures."
Jay-Z appreciated the gesture enough to keep the Tigers hat on for the duration of the show. That would've been enough for Vareha. Indeed it was all she had hoped for, writing the artist a little note on the brim stating that she's his biggest fan, that she loves him, and leaving her phone number.
But even Vareha, the consummate planner, was surprised by what happened next when the rapper passed his Yankees hat through the crowd for her to wear.
"Wearing the Tigers hat is one thing — it shows that he'll do anything for his audience," she said in a follow-up interview. "But I just couldn't believe he actually gave me his hat. He didn't have to do that. He's got a big heart."
Lesley's law of attraction
"So Ambitious" is one of Vareha's favorite songs from Jay-Z's new album, "The Blueprint 3." She quotes that song, and cites the law of attraction in the success she's had meeting and interacting with talented, famous people.
She met and went on stage with Lil Wayne when he recently performed in Indiana. She and her family, Tigers fans for decades, met and took pictures with former Detroit Tigers coach Sparky Anderson. She's also met NBA player Shane Battier and rapper DMX.
But she's never met the king of the hill, Jay-Z. That interaction at Eastern Michigan is as close as she's ever come.
Now that she's gotten his hat, Vareha might be on the heels of making her big dream come true by meeting the rap legend.
"If you can believe it, you can conceive it," she says, quoting Jay-Z's collaboration with Pharrell Williams.
Vareha's decision to leave her phone number on the Tigers hat was a good one, as Jay-Z's security team has reached out to her.
They're trying to arrange her presence at his concert at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio. That hasn't been finalized as yet — Vareha says that even if nothing further came from the contact, she'll still be happy — but if Vareha does go to Columbus, she hopes she'll get some face time with her inspiration.
"I don't even know what I'd say," she admits. "I just hope I could explain how much his music has been a motivation in my life and how much I appreciate what he does."
She touched up the shirt she made for the Eastern Michigan show, just in case those Columbus tickets do come through.
The fresh inscription, added to the back of the shirt, repeats what Jay-Z said upon trading hats: "A favor for a favor. A gift for a gift."
James David Dickson reports on human interest stories for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at JamesDickson@AnnArbor.com.