HARTFORD, Connecticut — The Meadows Music Centre was on fire Wednesday night, not only because of the sweltering summer temperature, but also because a hip-hop heat wave had just taken over the town.
Jay-Z handled the pressure, 50 Cent made people believe the hype, Bonnie shook her bon-bon and the Chairman of the Board was left lying in a pool of blood. The Rock The Mic Tour, one of hip-hop's most anticipated shows in years, officially opened the curtain on its road trek.
Co-headliner Jay-Z knows that even though he'll be taking the stage last during the tour, his is not necessarily the name with the most drawing power. After all, 50 Cent Mania is in full swing and fans have been vocal about riding hard for him. So Jigga pulled out all stops on his performance. He not only brought out his omnipresent crew and a "special friend," he also treated fans to what's a rarity for him: backup dancers. Yes, backup dancers.
Hov's lauded performance was preceded by footage of helicopters on stage's giant screens. Then the stage lights slowly began to illuminate, revealing the set, which mirrored a military compound, complete with jungle vines hanging from the rafters, a bunkerlike structure and Hov's DJ, Just Blaze, surrounded by sandbags.
Dancers dressed in fatigues marched out to the beat of Hova's "Takeover" and stepped into formation until their leader made his grand entrance. Wearing dark shades, a black military officer's shirt — complete with a colorful array of medals — and matching shorts, Jay kicked off his set with "Jigga My N---a."
Jigga's dance troupe did a brief jig behind him before exiting. Dame Dash, the Roc's other boss, later came from backstage to dance as "I Just Wanna Love You" was ending. The heads of the label slapped each other five and shared a few laughs over Dash's crazy footwork.
Jay teased the crowd a little, playing a snippet of the beat to "'03 Bonnie and Clyde." But then Just Blaze quickly switched up the track, keying up the commanding horns of Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love." Jay's dancers returned moments later, accompanied by Beyoncé herself.
The surprise of the night took the show full throttle when B started singing "Uh oh, uh oh, uh oh, uh oh" while simultaneously doing the hydraulic butt shake from her video. Beyoncé strutted around the stage with the confidence of a model on the runway and then stood by as Jay rapped his verse.
But the woman who has snatched back her bootylicious title belt from Jennifer Lopez wasn't the only guest Jay would bring out to help him rock the mic. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, Freeway and his fellow State Property members, the Young Guns and Peedi Crakk, also made appearances.
Everyone onstage disappeared for a wardrobe change as 1 a.m. started creeping up. Jay and the Roc came out a few minutes later to the beat of "Excuse Me Miss," having replaced their regular Roc-A-Wear street gear with dress suits.
"It's the Roc in herrre," Jay rhymed in his laid-back tone, with his crew posing and doing lounge-singer impersonations behind him. But you knew Jay couldn't end the concert on too smooth of a vibe, so at the last minute he took off his jacket for the finale, "La-La-La," his current single and the remix to "Excuse Me Miss."
Jay had a tough act to follow. 50 Cent's electric performance shocked the audience into submission, creating a frenzied legion of monster-fans, hell-bent on devouring every line of every song. Yelling in approval and thrashing their arms to the beats, the devotees rhymed along with the tunes as if they were the ones onstage.
Like Jay, the Queens MC also featured a guy in a suit: Old Blue Eyes. Before 50's performance, a man appeared on the screens impersonating the late Frank Sinatra.
The actor, dressed in a black suit and bow tie, welcomed everyone to the "50 Cent Show" before singing the Sinatra classic "New York, New York." A video montage then came on the screen, warmly highlighting some of the most legendary sights in the city. The serenity was stopped short, however, when somebody shot Frankie Baby. Another montage displaying some of New York's more unattractive scenery, such as drug addicts and shootouts, flashed as the G-Unit took the stage, launching into the song "U Not Like Me" against a set of the New York City skyline.
"You're not like me," sang 50 and the crew, dressed in New England Patriots jerseys and hats, almost drowned out by their excited fans.
"Wanksta" was up next, and then Cent addressed Murder Inc. "I smell p---y," 50 said, with his back turned toward the audience, grinning mockingly. "Is that you, Ja? I smell p---y, is that you, Irv? I smell p---y, is that you, Black? I smell p---y, is that you, Tah?" The mid-tempo beat cut off and the soundscape for "Back Down" thundered in. After his round of disses, 50 turned to give praise to one of the loves of his life with "High All the Time."
The show was flowing smoothly as "In Da Club" played, but then a glitch in the musical matrix occurred as the Unit left the stage and the video for "Many Men" came on the screens. The wrong track was being played, though, because all that was heard was the beat and no verses.
Even though some people were obviously bewildered, 50 quickly recovered from the error and took the enthusiasm to the highest point of the show with "What Up Gangsta," "21 Questions" and "Magic Stick" before he closed out with "Blood Hounds."
The Roc The Mic Tour highlights weren't limited to the headliners. Openers Lil' Mo, Fabolous and Missy Elliott all had brief sets filled mostly with big singles, and then Busta Rhymes came on.
Rhymes showed that there is no such thing as an off night for him by raising the bar with his animated rapping, yelling and crotch-grabbing along with Spliff Star. Proving that his stamina on the mic is boundless, he performed both his and P. Diddy's lyrics from "Pass the Courvoisier," and with most of the Flipmode Squad conspicuously absent, he also rapped their parts on "I Know What You Want."
The ladies in the crowd helped him out with Mariah Carey's parts on the chorus, but they totally bastardized her lyrics on the bridge. Bust kept his humorous nature, though, jabbing the audience.
"Ya'll don't know the words to the song? Cut that sh-- off," he said, looking surprised. He then told the crowd to go buy his latest album after the concert was over, and then it was.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.