Words by Tobias Handke.
It’s not often you can claim an Australian hip-hop festival a success, but that’s exactly what this years Rapture event was. Headlined by Eminem, it was a showcase of old and new, with Eminem ascertaining his presence as a ‘Rap God,’ while Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole offered fans a taste of what the future of hip hop looks like.
Thankfully, I arrived after 360 had performed – who, from all reports, was terrible – making it in time to catch former chef turned rhyme slayer, Action Bronson, currently one of my favourite rappers.
Bronson’s set up was minimal at best, with the burly rapper backed only by his DJ as he kept things Blue Chips 2 centric, with ‘Rolling Thunder,’ the Tracey Chapman sampling ‘Amadu Diablo’ and 80’s mashup, ‘Contemporary Man,’ just a few of the highlights.
Proving he’s a man of the people, or maybe just hoping for more of a reaction, Bam Bam waded into the crowd after a few songs, high fiving punters and necking their beers, which was great, apart from cutting his playing time by a good ten minutes or so while he made his way back to the stage, leaving his DJ to entertain with dodgy 80s dance efforts.
While a definite talent, the crowd seemed uninterested in Bronson, which was unfortunate; with bearded one more suited to club shows full of paying fans than a festival crowd waiting for the main event.
Up next was J. Cole, someone I find boring and uninspired, so it’s pretty hard to give his performance a positive review, but if I took anything away from Cole’s set, it was his level of professionalism. Backed by a tight band, harmonious back-up singers and two sexy dancers, Cole’s live show is on point, appearing to have put in a great deal of effort to get such a polished performance.
The crowd gave him a mixed reaction, with only his bigger tracks (‘Crooked Smile,’ ‘She Knows,’ ‘Power Trip’) really getting any reaction, Kendrick Lamar on the other hand, was a totally different story.
Having seen what he is capable of when he toured in 2012, I had high expectations, and boy did the LA MC deliver. Opening with the snare snapping ‘Money Trees,’ Lamar stalked the stage like a predator, dispatching songs with aggressive venom for an appreciative crowd. Lamar kept things good kid, m.A.A.d city heavy, with ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,’ ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ and ‘Backstreet Freestyle’ causing the mosh to really start heaving. K-Dot took a leaf out of the Kanye West and Jay Z playbook with he spat his verse from A$AP Rocky’s ‘Fuckin’ Problems’ twice, reminding everyone a “Benz-is-to-me-just-a-car.”
While it would have been great to hear more tracks from Section .80, K-dot was happy to entertain a crowd predominately concerned with his recent work, ending things with the West Coast flavoured ‘Compton.’
By now, the crowd had reached fever pitch, and there was a real sense of nervous excitement reverberating around the stadium. When the lights finally went down, the crowd exploded as Eminem appeared on stage in familiar apparel – grey hoodie, shorts and sneakers – and launched into ‘Survival.’
Joined by hype man and fellow D12 member, Mr Porter, Eminem had the audience moshing and rapping along from the get go, with ‘Won’t Back Down’ and ‘3 a.m.’ keeping the energy flowing.
With eight albums to his name, the set list was always going to be diverse, and Em didn’t disappoint, with a great variety of singles and album tracks populating the night. Older numbers ‘Just Don’t Give A Fuck,’ ‘Kill You’ and ‘The Way I Am’ showcased the angry, aggressive Slim Shady persona, while new hits ‘Berzerk’ and ‘Love The Way You Lie’ demonstrated Em’s maturity as a rapper and songwriter, as well as his continued knack to write solid pop tunes.
Royce Da 5’9 joined Em halfway through for ‘Fast Lane’ and ‘Lighters,’ while Mr Porter was ever present, providing much needed vocal support throughout the evening. Eminem’s eight piece backing band also deserve a mention, helping flesh out his arrangements, as well as the female songstress whose strong voice helped out on the likes of ‘The Monster’ and ‘Sing For The Moment.’
If anyone still had any doubt about Eminem’s rhyming ability, it was quickly put to rest with ‘Rap God,’ a brilliant six minute head turner that featured Em rapping at his fastest without missing a beat, displaying not only his lyrical wit, but feverish flow.
The ‘My Name Is/The Real Slim Shady/Without Me’ mash-up induced a mass sing along before the chart topping, ‘Not Afraid,’ brought things to a close. Hoping there was still more to come, the crowd chanted his name and stomped their feet, before Em returned to the stage for an encore of, ‘Lose Yourself,’ as fireworks lit up the Sydney sky.
At 41 years of age, Eminem was just as enthusiastic and intense as when he first appeared on the scene some 15 odd years ago. Now drug and alcohol free, he seemed to be in a great place, reflected by his outstanding live performance that will be heralded as one of the gigs of 2014. While his new material might not be as controversial, Em is showing a greater range of work, and if he continues to put on live shows like this, there is no doubting he will go down as one of hip hops greatest MCs.
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