Finally, the moment everyone was waiting for during this stop on the Up in Smoke tour: Eminem speaks! ”A lot of you may have read or heard things in the news about me,” he began. The crowd fell silent. Would he address his wife’s suicide attempt earlier that week, or the gun and assault charges still pending against him? ”I’ve been hearing about this beef I have with the Insane Clown Pussies,” he continued, ”but that s— is not true.” At that point Eminem’s sidekick, Proof, carried out two inflatable female dolls sporting the trademark face paint of the Detroit psycho-rappers Insane Clown Posse, and, as the audience yahooed along, he and Eminem jammed the dolls’ faces into their crotches.
Like ‘N Sync and Britney Spears, ICP are among Eminem’s favorite, too-easy targets, but the joke was still revealing. Up in Smoke — atraveling hip-hop carnival that will tour the country through late August and features Eminem, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Ice Cube — isn’t about truth (or consequences). It’s about playing bad boy, and no current summer festival can compete with Up in Smoke’s bacchanalian boasts. Over the course of four hours at New Jersey’s Continental Airlines Arena, comedian Alex Thomas, the tour’s emcee, repeatedly informed the audience that the rappers were either stoned or drunk. At one point, large marijuana leaves flanked the stage. Dre took a swig from a bottle of what he identified as Hennessey, and Eminem sported a red jumpsuit with ”County Jail” emblazoned on the back. A short film preceding their set showed Dre and Snoop getting serviced by semi-naked women and trying to score some dope.
By now, even a pothead knows such trouble-man posing is mostly an act. Nevertheless, Up in Smoke feels historic in the way it preserves the notion that pop music is all about defying authority and giving the middle finger (sometimes literally, during the show) to the Man. Even though its racially mixed audience was surprisingly tame throughout this particular performance, the tour still has the feel of those fabled multi-act rock & roll revues of the ’50s that made police and churchgoers very nervous. By comparison, the new wave of angsty metal bands presented on tours like Ozzfest just seem cranky, like they had a bad day at the apocalypse.
In the world of hip-hop shows, Up in Smoke is also novel in its elaborate staging (which includes a massive talking skull with glowing red eyes and Dre and Snoop entering in a bouncing low-rider) and its brisk pace. At this arena, opening sets by Tha Eastsidaz and Warren G were uninspiring but brief. Ice Cube’s half-hour show, leaden with lame recent material and tired gangsta braying, wasn’t nearly as convincing as his acting turns in films like Three Kings, but his entrance in a massive glass test tube was a camp-dramatic high point.
The resounding roar that greeted Dre and Snoop’s joint set was a vivid reminder of how large these two men continue to loom (which is easy to forget, given how infrequently they tour). Trading verses and pounding out hits old (”Nothin’ but a ‘G’ Thang,” ”Gin and Juice”) and new (”Still D.R.E.”) with backing tapes, Dre and his onetime protege became the Rap Pack: swaggering old masters who can still generate thrills and convey bong-loads full of charisma. Like Frank and Dean, they dressed in black and acted tough, but they also seemed to be enjoying themselves, and they displayed their sentimental side with a photographic salute to dead rappers like the Notorious B.I.G. and Big Pun.