Eminem/50 Cent/D12 : Madison Square Garden, New York, Monday August 8

Hip-hop’s enigmatic white-boy rapper shakes his ass as the Anger Management Tour hits NYC. But is this the end of the line?

Ten minutes into 50 Cent’s set, there are seven men onstage, holding their crotches and splashing water on each other. There are also simulated gunshots, and one of these men (Tony Yayo, currently on parole and rumoured to be wearing an anklet à la Martha Stewart) pretends to be hit and falls into the crowd. The assembled NYPD look very, very nervous.

The crotch-grabbers are G Unit, 50 Cent’s crew, and they put on quite a show of chest-beating, aided by vociferous rapping and a booming, often entirely tuneless back-beat. They’re big, beefy, and their anger… well, it doesn’t seem too well-managed. So when 50 stops the set several times to condemn the audience members for not being peppy enough – “You motherfuckers better put your motherfucking hands up!” – everyone complies more out of fear than enthusiasm. Not that this crowd isn’t showing 50 some serious love: in fact, the arena empties out significantly before Eminem even comes on.

Whereas 50 is all brute force, Eminem is pure vaudeville. This juxtaposition doesn’t do the headliner any favours: 50 looks like he could bench-press a brontosaurus; Eminem sings nursery rhymes. Still, he’s not wimpy when it comes to putting on a show – this night features enormous inflatable hands flipping the finger, pyrotechnics, and even a Michael Jackson baby-dangling impersonation.

Eminem is a Machiavellian media manipulator, staging puerile, but hilarious, skits between songs. At one point, he brings out a stack of tabloids. “Do you read this shit?” he asks. “This one says, ‘Britney’s husband Kevin Federline set to be the new Eminem’.” He waits for the crowd to boo. “Kevin Faggotline,” he sneers. Then he displays a headline which announces: ‘Moon to Explode in Six Months’, and pulls down his pants, revealing his sugar-white arse. But lyrics like “I never meant to make you cry” ( ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’) isn’t typical hip-hop macho muscle-flexing; this is the sort of thing the NYPD can relax about. Eminem even realises that someone needs to invent a new hip-hop dance so he does loose-limbed bendy-knee moves, and choreographs D12 into a boy band-style group pirouette.

The big rumour is that this is Eminem’s farewell tour, before he disappears, Dre-like, behind the mixing-boards of other artists. Maybe he knows he’s mined his life so thoroughly that he’s resorted to home films of his daughter for his videos. Right now he’s still unsurpassable. If he’s going to step down at the top of his game, the time is now.

He both acknowledges this rumour and sidesteps it. “If I retire and come back in two years, my name isn’t going to be Slim Shady no more, or Eminem either. I’ll go by some new shit. Like… Rain Man.” And then he launches into ‘Ass Like That’, and who knows if he’s serious.

He does, though, figuratively kill Eminem. Before the encore, a film shows him going backstage, loading a gun and shooting himself in the head. The gun is a toy and shoots nothing more than a “BANG” banner. Nonetheless, the point is made. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.

April Long