M.O.P.’s Lil’ Fame was wearing a T-shirt that screamed, “Mike Tyson Will Still Whoop Yo Ass.” Rap’s greatest ironist, maybe? After all, anyone truly toeing the Curtis Jackson party line, and who’d just spent the weekend at 50’s CT compound—formerly the property of Mr. Tyson—tossing back a few Chimays, wouldn’t be so brash.
See, like all armies fighting losing campaigns, 50’s G Unit is recruiting from decimated communities in need of a boost—once proud ’90s thugs. But new draftees Mobb Deep and M.O.P. don’t fight tactically; they scrap. And if they take an L, well, it’s not the first one. Havoc and Prodigy at least looked like team players in their minor-league glittery bulletproof vests, but when 50 stared down a crowd that shouted “G-U-Not” a little too easily, he was all alone. “I expect every motherfucker to put their hands up,” he said, like an exasperated phys-ed teacher. “You betta fuck with me. I got hits for days.” Lloyd Banks and Young Buck—busy pouring water over each other. Tony Yayo—throwing shirts to the crowd like the hype man he still should be.
And yet, it was headliner Eminem’s set that seemed bloated. His defensive line—D-12, Obie Trice, Stat Quo—crumbled. And his puerile jabs at other celebs—Mariah, Jacko, Bobby & Whitney—no longer sting the way they did when they made headlines. Nowadays, Eminem is the bully—he’s got the upper-arm strength, too—and boy is he good at it. So good, in fact, that it’s easy to overlook how weird and eccentric he is, and how very foreign to hip-hop and its tribulations he’s become.
Last year’s Encore was often dismal, but rarely dull, and onstage he enlivened even erratic mongo like “Rain Man” and “Ass Like That.” But give Slim Shady a stage and he’ll take a vein. “Lose Yourself” and “Mosh” were riveting, and “Like Toy Soldiers” was his “Kumbaya.” The show was being filmed for Showtime, and this was the moment that will air on all the tribute specials, if hip-hop ever does catch up to him.