The last time Busta Rhymes was at Pine Knob, I missed him. The night was Sep 3, 2022, and Nas & Wu-Tang Clan came to town for their “NY State of Mind Tour.” I left the show towards the end, having already heard all of my favorite hits from each act (notably “Hate Me Now,” “Made You Look,” “One Mic,” and “C.R.E.A.M.,” “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ Wit,” respectively), and figured there was nothing left to see. How wrong I was – Busta came out as a surprise guest… based on what I read the next day.
Alas, what a difference a year makes! On Sep 19, 2023, Busta Rhymes was billed as the opening act for 50 Cent on the “Final Lap Tour,” and I made amends for my mistake. It was a damp night from an early evening rain, but thankfully the crowd avoided any precipitation during the show (as a lawn seat veteran, this was especially important). The evening started off with a DJ playing hip hop old and new to get the crowd going. Jeremih came on next, which was a surprise to me at least, and a delightful surprise at that. He played exactly all of his songs I know – “oui,” “Down on Me,” and “Birthday Sex” – and then was done. A perfect opener!
Busta Rhymes’s set was next, and he was introduced by a video recording of Chris Rock hyping up Busta Rhymes; upon research, this video was originally released to announce the “Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God” album (Chris is also featured on the intro track of that excellent 2020 album). A set piece turned, and Busta appeared on a throne to join his trusty sidekick Spliff Star. A great way to start the show! Unfortunately, Busta’s raspy voice put a mild damper to that introduction, but thankfully the rasp was less evident when he did not yell (about 70% of the time). Another miss early in the show was when Busta’s microphone went out during “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See,” which is a bummer because it is one of his classic songs. Later in the show, Busta played two new singles (“Luxury Life” and “BEACH BALL”) off a new album coming out this year and announced its dream team of producers – Pharrell, Timbaland, and Swizz Beats! He and Spliff, the consummate showmen, continually asked the crowd to get loud throughout the show, which at times was fun and aligned with their playful nature, but at other times got tiring. Overall, it was great to see Busta live and would certainly recommend; highlights of the set were “Touch It,” “Break Ya Neck,” “Pass The Courvoisier” and his verses on “Scenario” and “Look At Me Now” (DISCLAIMER – the author does not support Chris Brown in any form or fashion, but that is still a blistering guest verse).
The people came to Clarkston en masse to see 50 Cent as the main event, and by the time he got on stage, the atmosphere was electric. He came out blazing and delivered hit after hit after hit! The sheer volume of songs was immense – he performed nearly 30 songs himself based on websites that track concert setlists, and that excludes special guests that came out (more on that later…). To help accomplish that, he didn’t waste much time with crowd work, which was fine by me; one of the few times he did, he made a homophobic comment about Puff Daddy, which would have been wrong in 2003 let alone 2023. So yeah, less is more…
The set design, featuring elaborate video boards and mechanical stage elements, was very impressive. I had seen footage of the tour at LA and was surprised how much was able to be carried over at the smaller, outdoor amphitheater at Pine Knob. While the set design certainly added to the experience, by far the biggest supporting feature of the night is when Eminem came out unannounced for his verse in “Patiently Waiting.” The crowd went nuts, as did I, even though when buying these tickets I figured there was a very good chance Eminem would perform as a surprise guest. He even called out the audience jokingly to that point, accusing us of knowing he would be there to support 50! The two then rapped on “Crack A Bottle,” and then Eminem graciously returned back to the audience to watch with the rest of us. Detroit rapper Kash Doll also came out as a surprise to perform her hit “Ice Me Out,” and another guest rapper who I could not identify also did a song later in the set. Jeremih also came out again for his feature on “Down on Me” with 50 and then performed “Birthday Sex” again on piano for good measure.
At the end of the day, 50 Cent was the star of the show. His voice sounded just like the album, which is no guarantee considering “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” came out 20 years ago (the impetus for the tour), and especially after hearing some of Busta’s vocal wear. Seeing him perform at an outdoor venue knowing that he was doing bigger indoor arenas in other cities on this tour was a unique bonus in regards to ambiance (and likely an economic bonus as well). Speaking of bonuses, 50 Cent came out for an encore, which is somewhat rare for hip hop shows in my experience and included hits “Wanksta” and “Stunt 101.” Most of his best work was done in the main set, highlighted by “What Up Gangsta,” “If I Can’t,” “Many Men,” “In Da Club” and his verses on “Hate It or Love It,” “How We Do,” and “Magic Stick.” All in all, another great night of music at Pine Knob!