As Busta Rhymes clutched a bottle of champagne near the end of his warm-up set for fellow rapper 50 Cent on Wednesday night at PNC Music Pavilion, he explained his reason for holding it in the simplest and most direct of terms:
“We got a lot to celebrate.”
First, he and his right-hand hype man Spliff Star toasted 50 Cent’s seminal “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” album, which marked its 20th anniversary this past February and is purportedly a big part of the reason the “In da Club” rapper is touring this summer. Secondly, they cheers-ed to Rhymes’ own milestones, including what he called “the 25-year anniversary of my second solo album ‘When Disaster Strikes...’” (although it actually turns 26 in less than a month); as well as to the lifetime achievement award bestowed upon him at the BET Awards in June.
“And last but not least — and most important,” said Rhymes, 51, right before he and Star popped their bottles, “the thing that gave birth to all of us being able to live this beautiful life and share our gifts — this beautiful culture called hip-hop.”
According to legend, the style was born on Aug. 11, 1973, at a back-to-school house party where a DJ used two turntables to create music that blew the minds of those in attendance. Almost exactly 50 years later, here in Charlotte to support 50 Cent, Rhymes blew the minds of those in attendance at a much larger party by using his motor mouth and his extraordinary breath control to jaw-dropping effect in performing his part of “Look At Me Now.”
Now, whether you’ve seen it a million times before or are completely unfamiliar with it, just watch it again real quick before moving on to the next paragraph (warning: explicit language):
Good? OK. So, on Wednesday night, Rhymes’ DJ cued up the high-pitched electronic sounds that announce the 2011 Chris Brown hit to prime the crowd for Rhymes’ speed-rap section of the song, then cut the music. And Rhymes milked the moment.
For the next 30 seconds, the rapper theatrically dabbed sweat from his face — real sweat, partly because of the typical Carolina-summer heat, but mostly because he was wearing a lime-green suit more suitable for winter — as the crowd roared ever more loudly. Then he slipped his right hand into his suit pocket, pulled out a tiny jar of lip balm, and proceeded to moisten his mouth.
“Can’t rush perfection,” he told the crowd, grinning widely.
After several more seconds of build-up, he spit out a perfect cover of his 50-second-long rap from “Look At Me Now” as more sweat leaked from his head, his face throughout bearing an expression that resembled what mine looks like when I eat too-hot a pepper.
Then Rhymes grinned again and offered a salute.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Spliff Star shouted, “whatever you see in the video, you can see live on stage. Whatever you hear on the record, you will hear and see live on stage.” Rhymes chimed in with this: “Charlotte, North Carolina. Let’s be clear: ... We don’t need special effects. ... Because we are the f------ special effects, b----.”
This was his first time performing in Charlotte since he played the same venue during a big rap show in 1998, and ultimately Rhymes was only on stage for about 35 minutes. But they’re 35 minutes that his fans will be hard-pressed to forget — from an entrance that saw him seated on a high-tech throne to a bit where he went silent while rapping “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See,” until Star “turned Rhymes back up” by miming fiddling with an invisible volume knob next to his cheek.
If I was to complain at all about Rhymes’ performance, it’s that we only got a snippet of his contribution to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” ...
Meanwhile, 50 Cent had an extra hour to play with, and the 48-year-old rapper used it to rip through more than three dozen songs (many in abbreviated form) with a little less panache than Rhymes, and a lot less personality. That obviously is going to sound like a knock against 50, but mainly what I’m trying to convey is that he just took care of business.
And business was good.
His delivery was on point. His various outfits and the various pendants that hung from his chains were as dope as you’d hope.
His tour director had some fun with a couple of illusions, including an obvious one at the start that saw 50 seem to magically appear inside a glass box — out of a cloud of smoke — as he rapped “I’m On Some S---.” But there was also a cleverer one later on that used a body double to make it look like the rapper had gone from wearing a hooded Carolina-bluish track suit while perched high above the stage to wearing a brown leather vest and pants when, a second later, he suddenly emerged from the wings below to perform “P.I.M.P.”
On top of that, 50 genuinely looked like he was enjoying himself, even if he didn’t always express the sentiment.
The problem was, he got upstaged at almost every turn.
His corps of nine female backup dancers did it first, emerging in barely there outfits to gyrate and undulate around empty folding chairs during “If I Can’t”; and then pulling 50 Cent and his hype men Tony Yayo and Uncle Murda into those chairs for lap dances while the live band played Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot.”
It’s worth noting that although the nine dancers initially came across as strip-club girls (sexually charged lap dances will give off that impression), over time they acquitted themselves and proved to be remarkably talented hip-hop and contemporary dancers.
Dancers who favored thong bikini bottoms, sure. But the crowd seemed to focus on them all night for other reasons, too.
Then there was DaBaby.
Some suspected from the beginning that the “Rockstar” rapper might make a guest appearance because 1) he popped up at 50 Cent’s show at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, last week, and 2) DaBaby lives in Charlotte ... so if he’d do it for 50 in NYC, why wouldn’t he do it for 50 in the Queen City?
Well, he did it, just over 20 minutes into the headlining set on Wednesday night.
Wearing a red White Sox hat, a black long-sleeve shirt and red shorts, DaBaby seemed overly caffeinated as always, charging into the seated section — while performing a rat-a-tat rendition of his hit “Suge” — to stand on armrests and then to get hoisted up by members of his entourage so he could rap while “lying down.”
Back on solid ground, he tore off his long-sleeve to reveal a white tank top and excitedly rapped his hyperactive 2023 hip-hop hit “Shake Sumn,” still engulfed in fans. After huffing and puffing through “Pop Smoke,” DaBaby wrapped with “Rockstar” as he flexed his biceps to a chorus of shrieks.
50, who stayed out of the way the whole time, returned for a parade of his hits. But half an hour later, he gave his audience away again, this time so opener Jeremih could sing “Birthday Sex” while playing a grand piano that one of 50’s dancers had climbed up onto. Here, the choreography did briefly veer back into stripper territory: After doing a split, she lay spread-eagled on her back as Jeremih stood up, put his hand on her abdomen, and sang directly into her groin area.
Taken as a whole, the show for me was ... I don’t know. I have to say, my head is still swirling.
The dancers, despite being talented, made me feel a little dirty. Like, I wanted to watch them, but then if I looked at them for too long I felt like a creep.
As for DaBaby, I couldn’t help but think of the controversy from a couple years ago when he made those homophobic and misogynistic comments at that music festival in Miami, stalling what had been a stratospheric rise for a kid who’d come up in Charlotte. Then thinking of DaBaby’s controversy made me think of a lyric in 50’s biggest hit, “In da Club,” that just hasn’t aged very well:
I’m that cat by the bar toasting to the good life
You that f----- a-- n---- trying to pull me back, right?
(The bleeped-out f-word is not The f-word, by the way. It’s the slur for gay men.)
I do think Busta Rhymes was right, that we’ve got a lot in the past to celebrate when it comes to hip-hop.
But I also think, as we move forward as fans of hip-hop and the culture it has created, that we’ve perhaps got at least a little bit to ponder, too.
50 Cent’s setlist
1. “I’m On Some S---”
2. “What Up Gangsta”
3. “I Get Money”
4. “Hate It or Love It”
5. “If I Can’t”
6. “Magic Stick”
7. “Hustler’s Ambition”
8. “How We Do”
10 “Candy Shop”
DaBaby’s mini-set: 11. “Suge,” 12. “Shake Sumn,” 13. “Pop Smoke,” 14. “Rockstar”
50 Cent returns
15. “Disco Inferno”
16. “Window Shopper”
17. “Best Friend”
18. “21 Questions”
19. “Just a Lil Bit”
20. “Big Rich Town”
21. “The Woo”
22. “Ayo Technology”
23. “Down on Me”
Jeremih solo: 24. “Birthday Sex”
25. “Many Men (Wish Death)“
26. “I’m The Man”
27. “In da Club”
28. “Hate Bein’ Sober”
33. “Back Down”
35. “Patiently Waiting”
36. “I’ll Whip ya Head Boy”
*-If you know the titles of the songs 50 Cent performed during his encore, please email me: email@example.com.