x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Eminem thrills Abu Dhabi

Eminem’s thrilling set at du Arena confirmed his status as a pop phenomenon and was a great illustration of hip-hop’s growth from street corners to stadium filling spectaculars.

Eminem plays at the du Arena on Yas Island as part of the F1 weekend entertainment. Antonie Robertson / The National
Eminem plays at the du Arena on Yas Island as part of the F1 weekend entertainment. Antonie Robertson / The National

Hip-hop was in the building last night.

Eminem’s thrilling set at du Arena confirmed his status as a pop phenomenon and was a great illustration of hip-hop’s growth from street corners to stadium filling spectaculars.

If there was ever a rapper big enough to fill such a prized slot as the race day concert, it would have to be Eminem.

However, he did have his work cut out for him last night.

For one thing, the mixed crowd on offer was very unlike the music festivals he’s used to headlining.

Youths, families and petrol heads don’t normally get along when it comes to musical tastes, hence previous race concerts - from Paul McCartney and Prince to Beyonce - were big enough to bridge the divide.

After a long day watching the race, the 20,000-strong crowded needed relief, normally in the form of a few big singalongs.

Eminem once again showed his deft command of both the hip-hop and pop worlds with a greatest-hits set full of anthems but with enough space to display his gritty rap skills.

Backed by an eight-piece band and hype man Mr Porter (also known as the Kon Artist from rap collective D12), Eminem stepped on the stage to the urgent riffs of Won’t Back Down before launching into the forceful 3AM.

The crowd was well and truly warmed up with Square Dance. Backed by its stonking beat, the crowd had their hands in the air as Em tore through defiant couplets like “a pit-bull off his leash/ All this peace talk can cease”.

The energy was maintained with the trunk rattlers So Bad and White Trash Party.

Eminem acknowledged the crowd constantly, mentioning Abu Dhabi dozens of time on stage. In song he was in his space, however.

He marauded across the stage, spitting lyrics while looking down at the floor. Each verse seemed excavated rather than resting on the tip of his tongue.  It was left to Mr Porter to make up the on-stage grin-shortage.

However a steady supply of levity eventually surfaced with big anthems I Need a Doctor and Love The Way You Lie.

Hip-hop heads received a real treat when fellow Detroit native Royce da 5’9" joined Eminem on stage. The fiery performance of Fast Lane, as the duo Bad Meets Evil, was utterly brilliant.

It was the essence of hip-hop: two dope MC’s trading rhyme after rhyme over a bass-heavy beat. Perhaps thanking the audience for this spot of indulgence, Eminem quickly followed it up with Stan, which a decade on remains a high-water mark for the genre.

A Dr Dre-produced medley of My Name Is and The Real Slim Shady was performed before the set was rounded off with Without Me, Not Afraid and the encore Lose Yourself - the latter cementing itself as The Eye of the Tiger for this generation.

The hip-hop party continued late into the night with Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco taking the SkyBar stage at du Forum and Royce’da‘5’9 and Eminem’s tour DJ The Alchemist playing their own show at Etoiles at Emirates Place.

But the night belonged to Eminem.

His performance may have not been to everyone’s taste. Yet it thrilled, challenged and remained compelling throughout - increasingly rare qualities to find in today’s popular music