The baseball season is still winding down, but the new Yankee Stadium took on a definite World Series feel on Monday night, when hip-hop’s two biggest names duked it out at the first musical event in the House That Replaced the House That Ruth Built. And despite early evening rainstorms, the electric atmosphere that had been building for days – concession stands hawking co-branded Jay-Z/Yankees gear opened last month – ignited as soon as Eminem hit the stage.
As the visiting team on the aptly-named Home and Home tour of Detroit and Big Apple ballparks, the Motor City product opened the show, looking more fit, more engaged and far more jovial than in previous visits to the city. Evincing both a sense of history – he nodded to the Bronx as hip-hop’s birthplace – and one of evolution (he tweaked most of his early material significantly), the artist sometimes known as Marshall Mathers proved that he hasn’t forgotten how to win over a crowd.
Eminem frontloaded the set with some of his most upbeat offerings (“White Trash Party,” “Square Dance”) before bringing out his hometown compatriots D12 for an interlude highlighted by “Purple Pills.” Em segued readily between more hook-oriented older songs like “My Name Is” and bleaker, more unstructured cuts from his current “Recovery” album, but seemed most on point when sparring with his guests – notably 50 Cent, who took part in a three-song mini-set, and mentor Dr, Dre, who earned one of the evening’s loudest ovations.
Headliner Jay-Z wasted no time in proving he wasn’t going to be outdone in the collaboration realm, bringing out Kanye West within the first five minutes of his set. West added a sharp counterpoint to a hard-hitting “Run This Town,” but seemed on the verge of overstaying his welcome when diva of the minute Nicki Minaj also entered the fray for “Monster.”
The Brooklyn-bred rapper didn’t need a lot of supplementing – he was at his strongest, both in terms of lung-power and charisma, on a sprawling, uninterrupted litany of favorites like “99 Problems,” “Big Pimpin'” and “Jigga What, Jigga Who.” From there, the perf took on something of a variety show feel, particularly when Coldplay’s Chris Martin joined in, bringing a stately vibe to “Ain’t No Love” and taking center stage for a lugubrious (but well received) version of “Viva La Vida.”
Jay ran laps around Drake – figuratively and literally – on their two collaborations, but seemed perfectly content to cede the focus to sequin-sporting spouse Beyonce during an uplifting “Forever Young.” Surprisingly, neither she nor original partner Alicia Keys handled the vocal hook on set highlight “Empire State of Mind” – a role instead filled by Jay protégé Bridget Kelly.
Thanks in part to the stadium’s naturally decent sight lines – and in larger part because of sensible stage placement near the center field fence – even the cheaper grandstand seats offered good vantage points. The sound was a little more problematic, with further reaches of the stands losing much of the crispness that was present front and center.