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Eminem Proves Rappers Can Rock at Bonnaroo

Jason Merritt, Getty Images

When the lineup for Bonnaroo 2011 was released back in February, some fans thought it skewed a little too far left of the festival’s jammy roots. Eminem — whose name usually dominates mainstream and rap album charts — didn’t seem like a natural fit for the festival’s big tenth anniversary but on Saturday night, June 11, the Detroit native proved otherwise.

On the brink of releasing a new album — a nine-track joint EP with fellow rapper Royce da 5′ 9″ — under the name Bad Meets Evil, Eminem’s Bonnaroo performance was convenient to start. He tore onto the stage in a t-shirt plugging the release and invited Royce Nickel and Nine out for a few cuts off the album — ‘Lighters’ and lead single ‘Fast Lane.’ “I knew it was a real big festival,” Royce told AOL backstage, about rolling up to the middle of nowhere. “All I’m hearing is 50,00 people, 80,000 people, 100,000 people — I don’t know what the hell I’m about to go see.”

It was the biggest main stage turnout of the fest’s capped 80,000 capacity that often became a sea of fist-pumps. And while hip-hop definitely represented at the music festival — Lil Wayne, Big Boi, Wiz Khalifa, J. Cole all made appearances at the festival in 2011 — Eminem rocked, proving he did fit right in at Bonnaroo. While Kanye West might channel classical and orchestrated hooks, Eminem’s music heads towards electrifying rock ‘n’ roll. His set list included songs with rock samples, like ‘Sing for the Moment’ off his 2002 album ‘The Eminem Show,’ which slices Aerosmith‘s ‘Dream On.’ He also played ‘Like a Toy Soldier’ which samples the 1989 soft-rock Martika hit ‘Toy Soldiers,’ that Em amps up onstage thanks to two live drummers, guitarists and a DJ. Tunes like ‘Cinderella Man’ and his collaboration with B.O.B., ‘Airplanes,’ were catapulted towards the anthemic, making that sea of fist-pumps freak out.

Em never skipped a word, and neither did the audience. During his 2000 hit ‘Stan,’ with the all too recognizable whispered intro, Eminem changed the lyrics — which follow several letters from a psycho fan — from “Remember when we met in Denver / you said if I write to you, you would write back?” to “Remember when we met at Bonnaroo?,” inciting huge roars from the crowd.

No, Dr. Dre didn’t show up but Eminem did perform his ‘Detox’ track, ‘I Need a Doctor,’ and got assists from his hypeman Mr. Porter.

“Can I take you back a minute?” Em asked the crowd before spitting out a medley of his earliest hits, ‘Without Me’ and ‘The Real Slim Shady.’ Before finishing his set with ‘Not Afraid,’ Slim thanked the crowd for “sticking around and standing by me.” And sure enough the crowd didn’t go anywhere when he finished, instead shouting “Shady! Shady!” and then slyly “Encore! Encore!” in reference to his album of the same name. Em came out again and closed the main stage down that night with ‘Lose Yourself,’ under a shower of pyrotechnics. The fireworks continued after his set, going off for a good ten minutes up in the sky. By the time they were finished Marshall Mathers had already left the building, in a police escort out of the middle of nowhere. But, hell yeah, he deserved it.

Watch Eminem’s Video for ‘Not Afraid’

Download Eminem Songs | Buy Eminem Albums

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