Eminem and 50 Cent
Photo of Eminem by Astridacom, provided by Governors Ball

Life at Eminem’s rain-soaked, pyrotechnic Governors Ball finale.

Once upon a time, Governors Ball was a quaint one-day festival on Governors Island, the decommissioned military isle one mile south of Manhattan. As one travelled by ferry to watch Das Racist perform amidst old army barracks and against the backdrop of an A1 NYC skyline, one might easily become smitten with the festival’s historical and geographic novelty.

These days, Gov Ball is a three-day, blockbuster event on Randall’s Island run more or less by the same giant company that also produces Boston Calling, Outside Lands, and every other urban music festival in the country. Which is not to say that it doesn’t offer a valuable sense of possibility (and anxiety), in particular to the unbelievably large population of teenagers who flock here from across the tri-state area to escape their parents’ tyrannical reign, taste alcohol for the first time, Juul with impunity, flirt outrageously, and make everyone else feel old. I can relate. Over a decade ago, I was a lame 16-year-old who became acquainted with blunts for the first time at John Legend ’s set at Bumbershoot in Seattle.

Eminem
Photo by Rohfoto

Gov Ball is populated not only be teenagers, but also by guys like Fabio, who wear their hair long like Jonathan Van Ness and don straw hats and green Converse, who are high on life and other substances, who go to the CHVRCHES set alone and court strangers and dance with reckless abandon and are visibly moved by the ease with which they make dozens of friends in a matter of seconds. “This is awesome,” Fabio quipped breathlessly. “When Eminem comes out, I might literally shit my pants.”

By the time Eminem took the stage for the final performance of Gov Ball 2018, the sun had long set and the temperature had dipped well into the 50s. The adolescent bros, who only hours early had been doing the shoot dance in their Odell Beckham Jr. LSU jersey, Allen Iverson Georgetown jersey, Russell Westbrook UCLA jersey, Steph Curry Davidson jersey, etc., now all quivered with arms tucked inside their sports apparel.

I was often impressed with Eminem’s stamina over the course of his 90-minute, 28-song set, the latest in his summer-long festival headlining spree. He emerged on Randall’s Island in a grey hoodie, accompanied by his exuberant sidekick Mr. Porter and a massive multi-piece live band. Gov Ball, having up to this point limited their special effects budget to plumes of dry ice, now splurged on a series of fireworks timed to burst into the sky as the beat dropped at several points throughout the show. Em eased into the proceedings with songs like “3 AM,” “Square Dance,” and “Kill You,” then kicked things up a notch for “White America” and “Rap God,” in which he wowed the crowd with his acrobatic rap displays like an aging gymnast who can still execute the quadruple lutz with plenty of room to spare.

Between “Sing for the Moment” and “Just Don’t Give a Fuck,” Eminem found time to deliver a special message to his “wifey” Nicki Minaj, with whom he has been teasing dating rumors as of late. “I’m going to tell you something about Nicki that she don’t even know. I know she’s gonna see this,” he said to Mr. Porter. “Nicki! Let’s do this! We go together! That’s all I wanted to say. Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.”

Skylar Grey came out in a white gossamer gown for a three-song run of “Walk on Water,” “Stan,” and “Love the Way You Lie.” During “Stan,” rain fell onto a dreary post-industrial urban milieu on the screen projected behind the stage. Eminem brought out Royce Da 5’9” and Phresher, and then for the most boisterous portion of the set, 50 Cent. “You motherfuckers tired??” Em questioned the crowd. “You ready to go home??”

It started to rain a full hour in, softly at first than much harder. I knew my poncho would come in handy. Eminem launched into a tender rendition of “River,” which he had dedicated to the ladies. The truth and my lies now are falling like the rain / So let the river run . “Can I take you back to a time when we used to get fucked up?” he asked before performing “My Name Is,” “The Real Slim Shady,” and “Without Me.” He offered his trembling cellos an opportunity to shine on “Nowhere Fast,” as he had done earlier with the soaring guitar solo on “Sing For the Moment.” He rapped most passionately on blockbuster hits “The Monster” and “Not Afraid.”

Tired after a long weekend and facing work and school in a few hours, most of the crowd departed Eminem’s set before he came out to deliver “Lose Yourself” in a triumphant encore. The faithful made for the exits. Rain continued to pour from the sky and turn the fallen pizza slices that littered the grassy fields of Randall’s Island to mush.

Set list

1 Medicine Man
2 Won’t Back Down
3 3 AM
4 Square Dance
5 Kill You
6 White America
7 Rap God
8 Chloraseptic (w/ Phresher)
9 Sing For The Moment
10 Just Don’t Give a Fuck
11 Criminal
12 The Way I Am
13 Walk on Water (w/ Skylar Grey)
14 Stan (w/ Skylar Grey)
15 Love the Way You Lie (w/ Skylar Grey)
16 Fast Lane (w/ Royce da 5’9”)
17 Patiently Waiting (w/ 50 Cent)
18 In Da Club (w/ 50 Cent)
19 I Get Money (w/ 50 Cent)
20 Crack a Bottle
21 River
22 The Monster
23 Nowhere Fast
24 My Name Is
25 The Real Slim Shady
26 Without Me
27 Not Afraid
28 (Encore) Lose Yourself