Eminem Abu Dhabi gig reviewed by a former superfan: did the rapper live up to the hype?

I was somewhat obsessed with the man growing up, and yet I'd never seen him live – until last night

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I probably shouldn't admit this so publicly, but my first email address in life was eminemz_babi@hotmail.com. That's right: I spelt those words with a "Z" and an "I". As you can tell, I was pretty cool.

I was somewhat obsessed with the man. I had a giant Eminem poster on my bedroom wall for most of my teenage years, 8 Mile was one of my favourite films and there definitely came a point when I could recite, word for word, for better or worse, the entire Marshall Mathers LP. (I could keep up as well – it was a sight to behold, I can tell you.)

Yet, despite the Detroit rapper being the man of my 13-year-old self’s dreams, I’d never seen him live… Until last night, when he brought his Kamikaze world tour to Abu Dhabi’s du Arena, his first live show since March. The fact that I was there to review the concert would have no doubt blown that little girl’s mind.

Read more: Eminem concert organisers respond to complaints about delays

So did the performance by Marshall Bruce Mathers III live up to that teenager’s expectations? In a word: yes. Once we were all safely inside and Eminem hit the stage with fellow Detroit rapper Denaun Porter, the atmosphere was electric.

As more of a fan of his older stuff (I had admittedly lost interest by the time he was collaborating with the likes of Beyonce and Ed Sheeran), for me it was a show of two halves. At first, there were quite a few of his newer tunes that I – and other older, nearby fans – didn’t really recognise, although the much younger fanbase around me clearly did.

He started off with Greatest, from his latest album Kamikaze, which came out in August 2018. Then he and Porter took us through songs like Won't Back Down, on 2010's Recovery, and 3am from 2009's Relapse: Refill, but with a few golden oldies for good measure, such as 2000's Kill You from the Marshall Mathers LP (my inner 13-year-old rejoiced) and White America and Sing for the Moment, both from 2002's The Eminem Show. The full setlist is here.

While I enjoyed this portion of the show, for me it really got started at song 15, when he played The Way I Am, again from The Marshall Mathers LP. This is one I'd quite possibly choose to put on a soundtrack of my life. After that, the beautiful American singer Skylar Grey graced the stage and performed 2017's Walk on Water, followed by one of my all-time favourites, Stan, and the song that would consequently get stuck in my head for the next 12 hours: 2010's Love the Way You Lie.

What really struck me was the energy Eminem displayed on-stage. The National's music expert, Saeed Saeed, who has seen the rapper perform on four occasions – including the last time he was at du Arena in 2012 – says this is actually something new. "This is the first time that I've seen Eminem really enjoying himself onstage," he told me after the show. "Normally, Eminem, when he performs he's very broody, very intense and his intensity makes the show great. But this time he was very open, there was lots of crowd interaction – and that's a new side of him. I think he's now enjoying performing and he's really stepped up his game when it comes to his showmanship."

His show is energetic and he can move a crowd emotionally

While I felt Porter actually did most of the talking, Eminem did chime in at times. He made countless references to Abu Dhabi (the name, not exactly the place itself – there wasn’t much commentary) and there was a moment that saw him running across the stage, encouraging the crowds on both sides to scream and go wild. “You might be louder than the last time we were here,” he shouted. “No disrespect to the last crowd!”

The fact that we were louder might be because this show was actually better, according to those who attended both. Not that the last one wasn’t good, it is just that this one had more energy, a more expansive set list (he has released three more albums since then, after all) and a genuinely revived performer.

“Normally hip-hop artists are all about party songs, working the crowd, and bling bling,” adds Saeed. “The way Eminem writes has an emotional edge to it and you don’t find that in hip-hop shows. His show is energetic and he can move a crowd emotionally.”

That's why he has so many superfans, one of whom is Maria Stapleton, a former UAE resident who flew in from Scotland just to see the show. She had not seen him perform live for 18 years and was worried he wouldn't be as good as he was the last time she saw him. But, she says, "he excelled". "My favourite song was Not Afraid, very closely followed by Lose Yourself, because everybody got involved with those two and it felt like a real concert.

“What made it for me, though, was the guy in the crowd who looked like Stan!” He really did – and he appeared on the big screens numerous times throughout the night seemingly showing off the tattoo of Eminem’s name he has across his chest (just like Stan!).

One of my own personal favourite moments was when he, Porter and the DJ, The Alchemist, who celebrated his birthday on Friday, took a selfie together onstage with the crowd in the background.

Denaun Porter, left, with Eminem and The Alchemist on stage in Abu Dhabi at du Arena on Friday, October 25, 2019. Instagram / @alanthealchemist
Denaun Porter, left, with Eminem and The Alchemist on stage in Abu Dhabi at du Arena on Friday, October 25, 2019. Instagram / @alanthealchemist

The ultimate pinnacle of the evening, however, was the firework display that rounded off his encore, 2002's Lose Yourself.

Granted, in terms of event organisation there were glaring hiccups, particularly when it came to queue management, but I don't think many people can argue that Eminem put on a fantastic show – one my 13-year-old self would have been proud of.