DETROIT — The songs were time-tested, the faces familiar.
But if you were sitting in the crowd of 42,000 Thursday night for the first of two Comerica Park shows by Eminem and Jay-Z (two more follow Sept. 13 and 14 at New York's Yankee Stadium), it was hard to escape the realization that this was something just a little different.
It was a night of big and bigger: huge hits from a pair of superstars on a massive stage. The buzz had been heavy for weeks, in part because Detroit wasn't sure exactly what it would get.
What it got was an evening that may well go down as a milestone for hip-hop.
Rock 'n' roll has its enduring concert superstars, its Springsteens and Stones. But for hip-hop — whose live legacy has been comprised mostly of flash-and-burn young acts and retro-circuit oldies — Thursday's confident, high-quality production represented something unique. It was loud, resounding evidence that hip-hop can do the larger-than-life thing, too.
Em and Jay-Z had been building to a breakthrough like this for years, securing their place in the larger pop culture and pulling hip-hop to a transcendent new level.
Jay-Z, recognizing the magnitude of the moment, paused his set and urged the show's directors to bring up the house lights. He took in the roaring crowd.
"This is hip-hop music," he said, "and this is how far we've come."
He'd begun his set to a blast of lights and squalling rock, alone at center stage to rap the intro from album The Dynasty. From there it was a fast-paced and at times poignant set of hits and medleys that led to a closing climax of Empire State of Mind and Numb.
Backed by a tight live band, Jay welcomed guests Young Jeezy and Memphis Bleek and paid tribute to fallen stars, including Detroit's Proof and Aaliyah.
It would be Eminem's hometown crowd to own a half-hour later. Tightly gripping his mic and tensely pacing the stage in his Tigers hoodie, he launched into a fierce performance of Won't Back Down, instantly converting Jay-Z's warm vibe into a sharper, darker tone.
Before him was a predominantly white crowd composed of Eminem's original crop of fans, now in their 30s and 40s; many were just toddlers when he was working Detroit clubs down the street.
They'd come armed with ample enthusiasm. Some had waited in line since early morning, rushing to the field when gates opened at 6.
It was an eclectic, career-spanning set: Em quickly dipped back in time, ripping through 1999's Kill You with slinky backing from his live band. He placed older tunes (Cleaning Out My Closet) next to songs from his new Recovery album.
For all the nostalgia of the older material, it still came with a bite. The new band brought organic textures to vintage fare like Without Me , Stan and The Way I Am, the last as potent as it was 11 years ago.
Tens of thousands of fists pumped in unison for the anthemia Not Afraid, the song proclaiming Eminem's recent rebirth.
"Did you miss me?" he had asked the crowd early on. Yes, came the roar. Eminem was indeed back, and hip-hop is getting something big out of it.