When Eminem hits the stage, he rarely goes it alone, having already lit up Grammy night with pop luminaries like Elton John and hip-hop upstarts like Drake. This year, he's taking it back to his hip-hop roots by teaming up with longtime mentor and rap legend Dr. Dre, with additional assistance from Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine.
Sunday's performance promises to be a major hip-hop moment, as not only will Eminem rip the stage, but the set will mark Dre's first live performance in more than 10 years (not counting his hysteria-inducing cameos at Shady and Jay-Z's Home and Home Tour). But what should fans expect from the Doc and Em's first joint awards-show matchup in over a decade? Well, if we take cues from their onstage team-ups back in the day, we can expect the greats to school anyone who may have forgotten about their concert chemistry and serve up more of their renowned, top-flight lyricism.
At the 1999 VMAs, a newbie Shady performed his debut smash "My Name Is" in a hoodie with "Role Model" splashed across the front in blinking lights. Midway through the track, Dre showed up to spar with Slim for the ethics-juggling hit "Guilty Conscience," re-creating the bank-robbing scene from the track's video. Then another chart-topping Dre protégé, Snoop Dogg, jumped in the fray for the 1993 Chronic classic "Nuthin' But a G Thang."
Em has since gone on to turn out similarly memorable sets without the Aftermath MC. Shady doled out an impassioned rendition of "Stan" with Elton John on the piano at the 2001 Grammys. The lyricist spit lines about a tormented Em fan, while scenes from the video flashed across the set and John punched out highly syncopated accompaniment on the keys. Having John onboard was not only a major artistic coup for any budding superstar, but proved especially poignant given the furor gay-rights activists lobbed at Em for his controversial rhymes, and became one of the most significant performances of his career.
Em returned to the trophy fest in 2003 to rock "Lose Yourself" from the "8 Mile" soundtrack with longtime hypeman and D12 homey Proof and soulful hip-hop outfit the Roots on backup. Sporting a "Free Yayo" T-shirt referencing then-incarcerated G Unit soldier Tony Yayo, Em fiercely spit his bars with Proof chiming in for emphasis. The MC wrapped up the performance by paying tribute to rap pioneers Run-DMC and their fallen DJ, Jam Master Jay, as the Roots slipped in the aggressive riff from the trio's 1985 single "King of Rock."
2010 Grammy viewers caught Em unleashing a fury of lyricism when he joined Lil Wayne and Drake for a medley of their A-list collaborations. With Travis Barker pounding away on the drums, Wayne kicked things off with an ethereal rendition of "Drop the World," and Em followed by dropping a lyrically agile version of his verse from Wayne's Rebirth cut. In a performance low on fussy production theatrics, Em helmed the track's finale by confidently and swiftly rattling off his tongue-tangling verse from Drake's "Forever."
The 53rd annual Grammy Awards will mark 10 years since Em raised his hand in friendship with Elton John on the big show, as well as the Doc's first live performance in a decade. Since we last saw Em and Dre take over an awards-show stage together, they've both evolved into game-changing icons, Em still cranking out hit albums as Dre hawks headphones and slickly cakes off of stars from Justin Bieber to Lady Gaga. Although they really have nothing to prove, Sunday's throwdown will likely be an indelible reminder of that fact.
Don't miss "Snooki & Sway: Live From the Grammys," a red-carpet live stream kicking off Sunday at 6 p.m. ET on MTV.com. And stick with us all Grammy night for coverage of the red carpet, the show, the afterparties and beyond!