We don’t know what Eminem visited during his stay in the UAE, but as he told the massive audience at du Arena on Sunday night, “We aren’t going home.” After the show he put on, I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual. In fact, in a perfect world, Eminem and Kylie would buy a house on the Palm and put on concerts like the ones they did during the Formula 1 weekend all the time.
Em stormed on at 9pm (kudos to event organisers Flash for getting the stars on stage on time every night during the after-race concerts), after a video screen told the story of his rehab, and how his “recovery” (an ongoing theme linked to his 2010 album of the same name) started in Abu Dhabi... now. The man himself emerged -- looking at least a decade younger than his 40 years in cargo shorts and a hoodie -- threw himself and the crowd right into Won’t Back Down, a track with Pink from Recovery. Storming around the stage, hood over his face, he was every bit the angry rapper we know from 8 Mile, a whirlwind of energy and wordplay who for an hour and a half never stopped rapping, even when he later let the angry avatar slip and was also funny and entertaining.
Aided by his hype man Mr Porter, and a brilliant vocalist who played the roles of Rihanna (“Love The Way You Lie”), Dido (“Stan”) and Skylar Grey (“I Need A Doctor”), Eminem was the ringmaster of a tightly executed show, with graphics and videos that actually contributed to the music that was being played, rather than just lighting up the stage. Many of Eminem’s tracks are pure storytelling (if you can listen beyond the cursing) and a case in point is “Like Toy Soldiers”, Em’s plea to end rap beefs, dedicated to his late hype man Proof. In the video played out, we see rappers who have fallen -- Tupac, Biggie -- and Proof, who spookily played a rapper gunned down in the song’s video just a year before he himself was shot dead. Yes, there were guns and almost constant swearing and it probably wasn’t appropriate for all ages -- but Eminem does have mass appeal of the kind a major event like the F1 needs: no other musician, rapper or otherwise, sold as much music as this man from 2000-2010. The only reason that figure is not until 2012 is because he hasn’t released an album since Recovery -- but has hinted that we can expect a new one in 2013. He is huge, and absolutely deserving of his success, if this show was anything to go by, giving fans everything they wanted, from the hardcore raps to his earlier Slim Shady fun such as “My Name Is” and “The Real Slim Shady” and the massive “Lose Yourself”, the hit song from his film “8 Mile”. He closed out the show with that song, using it to thank his fans, who he said were the only way he got through hard times in his life.
Personally, I went into the show expecting something similar to 50 Cent’s recent Dubai performance, where at times it felt like he was more interested in conversing with his crew than with performing the tracks we wanted to hear. I was told that’s typical of a rap show. Not so with Eminem. He actually sang (or rapped) songs, mostly in their entirety (save the Slim Shady songs, which were 30-second mashups), and still found time to talk to the crowd and banter with Mr Porter, who did a fantastic job of whipping the crowd into a frenzy rarely seen in UAE audiences; then again, Eminem commands respect, and I’d be surprised to see any crowd that didn’t deliver it to him.