Photo: Jermemy Deputat

Eminem – ANZ Stadium, Sydney 23/02/19

The line up for Sydney’s stop of Eminem’s Rapture tour was a mouth watering prospect. US artists, Boogie and Royce da 5’9, both signed to Shady Records along with Australian hip-hop legends, Hilltop Hoods were to hit the stage from 6.15pm. Sydney’s largest capacity venue, ANZ Stadium, chosen probably out of sheer necessity more than any other reason to house the show.

By the time Hilltop Hoods hit the stage, the swarms had stopped flowing through the doors and were jumping along with MC Pressure’s infectious bounce. It wasn’t the first time the Adelaide crew had been called upon to support Eminem, but it was the first time since they became Australia’s only hip-hop artists to sell out an Australia-wide arena tour by themselves.

It was a special day for the Hoods, marking the release of their much anticipated eighth studio album, The Great Expanse. Giving props to up-and-coming artists is a thickly embedded part of hip-hop culture and Hilltop Hoods weren’t going to stray, calling upon fellow Australian lyricist, Adrian Eagle to join them on the stage for their collaborative release, ‘Clark Griswold’. Adrian took to the mic with a sense of calm and experience as if he’d never not been on the big stage.

Their show, their presence, a refined art. Blending new tracks with old favourites such as ‘The Nosebleed Section’, where it seemed like the entire stadium knew every word, they did more than just warm up the crowd. They gave us a show within a show. At the end of their set, the Hilltop Hoods gave a heartfelt thank you to the crowd; a sentiment surely returned.

The anticipation of seeing Eminem gave way to urgency as thousands from the seated areas at the sides of the stadium cheered, catching but a glimpse of the production being assembled behind a giant white curtain.

Following Revival’s (as Eminem raps, “didn’t go viral”) underwhelming release, he ventured back to a style of his earlier years with Kamikaze, going platinum in December, 2018. The album, fuelled with anger, controversy and damning disses, felt to many to be the return of the real Slim Shady.

The question is, what do you want when attending an Eminem concert? A diplomat? A musician, gracefully handing the spotlight over for future rappers, no matter their arrogance to stand under? Nah — you want anger, angst and the type of aggression that sent Marshall Mathers’ name into stratospheric fame in his first release, The Slim Shady LP. You want to hear of the accused, the younger generation who try their hand at claiming his throne, his placement as the greatest ever rapper. And you want it all executed with highly intellectual, bone-crushing, jugular-severing lyrics spat with his middle finger held high.

The curtain dropped to instant commotion as the stage lit up. No expense had been spared. Three oversized screens, two drummers, guitarists, keyboardists, DJ and a full string section. From the crowd came, screams, clapping, stamping and yelling as a King Kong-sized Eminem walked the streets smashing everything in his way following an altercation. “My bad. Sorry I’m not used to being so tall,” he says just before taking to a car and buildings with his feet and fists — a jab to the critics who have recently second-guessed his greatness.

It seemed natural that Eminem would start his set with ‘Greatest’, the second track from his most recent album. “Motherfuckers talkin’ crazy, sayin’ I should quit, I fuckin’ tell them make me, eat a fuckin’ dick, I’m feelin’ like the greatest, wanna be whoever did it, Mike Will the one who made it, it’s Shady on the lyrics.” The scene was set. Shady was taking no prisoners tonight.

Over the course of his set, a scene of Detroit, complete with the iconic (mostly thanks to Eminem) 313 signposting, dilapidated buildings and an overpass, slowly turned to burning ruins on the big screens. The first half included ‘Won’t back down’, ‘Rap God’ and ‘Fall’, the latter another from his latest album, speculating on the rumours circulated about Eminem’s apparent loss of inspiration and answering those who dare to question his authority. As he says, “You wanted Shady? You got it!”

Eminem also welcomed American singer, Skylar Grey to the stage to fill the shoes of the likes of Beyonce (‘Walk on Water’), Dido (‘Stan’) and Rihanna (‘Love The Way You Lie’ and ‘Monster’). Just a few hours before she would be formally celebrating her birthday, she seemed genuinely bashful and thankful to Eminem, who rallied a stadium-strong happy birthday chorus following her beautifully sung set.

‘Till I collapse’ and ‘Cinderella Man’ had the entire stadium singing along, at times completely drowning out Eminem himself, offering a new generation of music lovers what Beatlemania was like in the 60’s.

‘Caterpillar’, a collaboration with Royce da 5’9, saw the Detroit rapper back out on stage to further remind the younger generation of rappers that — with all their success and future successes — to not forget where it all started.

Boogie, one of the latest to sign on Eminem’s label, Shady Records, also made an appearance in the set with his collaboration, ‘Rainy Days’. A lesser known song to most, but if anyone has the authority to suggest who the next big name in the rap game is going to be, it’s Eminem. And along with telling us to pick up Boogie’s latest release if we haven’t already, he reaffirmed his belief of the Compton-born rapper of being the Next Big Thing.

The end of the show — by now set against a crumbling, burning Detroit — was heavy hitting: ‘My Name Is’, ‘The Real Slim Shady’, ‘Without Me’ and ‘Not Afraid’ had everyone jumping and signing their lungs out before the stage went dark. It seemed over, but nobody moved. There was something that made every last fan stand in their spot. There needed to be an ending.

The enormous screens, ablaze with all colours of stars and a keyboard solo that hinted at the chord structure of the encore. Soon enough, the familiar guitar riff of ‘Lose Yourself’ broke through the screams with the final chapter of the show encouraging the young to strive, have courage and take risks to be the person you want to be. The backdrop, now a full circle from the beginning with a new-look of Detroit city, slick and refurbished with skyscrapers, surrounded in greenery.

Perfectly executed from beginning to end, Eminem had thought about it all. The live musicians, the setlist running against a developing backdrop and raps that made you think, question yourself and have courage to live the life you believe in. Over the past year, hype and media have come up with one question: Are you, Eminem, all you used to be? His answer: And more.

– Eminem’s Australian tour continues this week. Head here for remaining dates.

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