NEW YORK — Amid a sea of baseball caps and jerseys, Roc-A-Fella triangle hand symbols and the occasional shoulder-rider, and beneath a haze of thick, blue smoke, the crowd at Hammerstein Ballroom on Monday gathered for the Paid in Full Tour, headlined by Cam'ron — who has a starring role in the film of the same name — with N.O.R.E, M.O.P. and Philadelphia newcomers NAAM Brigade.
After the Brigade's opening set featuring songs from their debut album, Early in the Game, the Brooklyn duo M.O.P. flooded the stage with all the celebrities in NYC they could get their hands on, including Busta Rhymes, Gang Starr, Nice & Smooth, Fat Joe and Remy Martin. Their set — which opened with "4 Alarm Blaze" — was short, but they made the most of it. They hit "Cold as Ice" and "How About Some Hardcore" before bringing the guests to the mic for "Dwyck" and a rousing, extended version of "Ante Up." (Click here for photos from the show)
It was downhill from there.
N.O.R.E, surrounded by about 15 of his boys, came out wearing a black bandana on his head and a denim outfit with some patches of matching fabric. He opened with the 1998 hit "Superthug" before moving on to his verse from "Banned From TV" and "N.O.R.E."
After the last refrain of "Stands for n----s on the run eatin'," he took a minute to work the crowd. "This is my home f---in' town," the Queens rapper shouted. Mussolini and Maze came to the front of the stage telling women to yell "F--- one minute men!" while N.O.R.E. stood out of the glare of the lights to smoke a cigarette.
Reinvigorated, he came back with "Ya'll Don't Wanna" and the crowd picked up some momentum as well.
The 20-minute set ended with the hit "Nothin'." "If you're ready for this joint make some f---ing noise!" N.O.R.E said. Everyone onstage with a microphone extended them towards the audience as they performed the closing number for the guys. When the crowd fizzled out halfway through, N.O.R.E and Co. finished it off. And with little more than an album plug, he left the stage.
In the few minutes between sets, a movie screen lowered behind the stage. The "Paid in Full" trailer played. In a slight variation on the "In a world…" story set-ups that we've come to expect, the screen flashed the words, "On the streets, there's only one game. If you got the skills, you can reach the top" in between shots of the film and the main characters, who, apparently (and thankfully) "Do what it takes to get paid in full."
When the screen was raised, the stage was filled with no fewer than 50 people. Shirtless. Wearing sunglasses. Filming. Eating. Dancing. Talking on cell phones. Drinking. Rapping along. You name it. Somewhere in there were Cam and the Diplomats, who opened with "Bout It, Bout It."
Cam'ron wore a red doo-rag and a red and black tracksuit and yelled for the crowd to put their middle fingers in the air as he moved into "Let Me Know" and then "On Fire Tonight."
The sound of tape rewinding marked the end of a song and, wordlessly, the next would begin. Except for a few stray arms in the air bouncing to the beat, the crowd was largely still.
"I'm disappointed," Justin from New Jersey said. "I paid $42 dollars for this."
"Man, I could just listen to all of this in my car," Rafael from the Bronx added.
When "Oh Boy" started, the crowd perked up momentarily. But whatever energy there was was killed by Cam'ron stopping for a "quick chronic break" before performing "Live My Life (Leave Me Alone)."
They should have ended on "Hey Ma" but Cam'ron and the Diplomats wanted to showcase a new song from their upcoming album.
As they performed "I Really Mean it," the crowd quietly filed out of the ballroom.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.