It started well.
One of the security guards at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena ID’ed me as we headed into an area restricted to those aged 21 and over. It was dark, admittedly, and he was possibly shortsighted and had probably been warned to be over-cautious, but at the age of 41, that’s more than enough to make your night, if not your year.
In spite of Friday evening traffic and seemingly unending queues of actual 21-year-olds, we also made it into the arena just as 50 Cent came on stage. Another win. The drink vendors were overwhelmed and had run out of most options by the time we got to the counter, but even that was not enough to put a dampener on the evening.
I’m a lifelong hip-hop fan who remembers, remarkably clearly, the first time I saw the music video for 50 Cent’s breakout hit, In Da Club. It was 2003 and I was a young, fresh-faced graduate watching MTV at my best friend’s house in central London. I remember immediately being drawn in by the song’s distinct, unrelenting bass line, Fiddy’s thuggish charisma and pared-back delivery, and the cameos by old favourites Doctor Dre and Eminem.
I cannot begin to imagine how many times I have heard that song since then, not least every time anyone, anywhere, is celebrating a birthday ― go shorty! And it always brings back the best of memories. Such is the power of music; it cements moments of your life into teeny three-minute chunks, allowing you to access far-gone feelings in the flash of a well-delivered rhyme.
So, needless to say, I was excited about seeing the man in concert for the first time, almost 20 years after I first started listening to his music. In my mind, the Dh395 was a worthy investment. His greatest hits had formed the soundtrack to my twenties and his debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, is still on regular rotation in the Denman household. A large chunk of my brain is devoted to storing old 1990s rap lyrics (just don’t ask me what I had for breakfast yesterday), so I was all set for a good old rap-along.
I will admit that there is, perhaps, something ever-so-slightly unseemly about a 50-year-old jumping around on stage singing about his Candyshop. But Fiddy was clearly having such a blast ― his beaming smile was eclipsed only by the enormous diamond-encrusted chain he wore around his neck ― that it would be churlish to begrudge him his moment.
However, I feel like he begrudged me mine. He delivered all his greatest hits, but at warp speed, often only getting halfway through before switching to the next. The soundtrack to my youth sped by in record time, with barely a chance to put my own (perceived) rhyme-spitting prowess into practice. All his best verses were left unsung as he trampled through his ill-conceived medley.
As soon as the crowd started to settle into a song, it was gone. When he did choose to linger, it was on the tracks that nobody seemed to have ever heard before. I understand, two decades on, that he may be tired of playing the same songs over and over again, but he displayed a remarkable lack of understanding of what his audience was actually there for.
They say you should never meet your heroes. You should also probably never go see antiquated rap stars with the hope of reliving your youth. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, but also a potential catalyst for extreme disappointment.