Big Sean’s big Joe Louis concert gets boost from Eminem

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

At the end of Big Sean’s supersized homecoming concert at Joe Louis Arena Friday night, an evening that saw him breathlessly run through a career-spanning mix of album tracks, guest verses, mixtape nuggets and hit songs, the Detroit rapper brought out the biggest Detroit rapper, Eminem, for a run through of their anthemic posse cut “Detroit Vs. Everybody.”

Big Sean stood close to Eminem, who was dressed in a white hoodie and electric red sneakers, as he ripped through his verse on the track from Em’s 2014 “Shady XV” compilation during Friday night’s concert at Joe Louis Arena.

Joined on stage by Royce da 5’9”, Danny Brown and Dej Loaf, Sean bounced in sync with Eminem, who was dressed in a white hoodie and electric red sneakers as he ripped through his verse on the track from 2014’s “Shady XV” compilation. And as the group of Detroit MCs stood tall at the end of the song, and Trick Trick bellowed out to the crowd, Joe Louis Arena was as loud as it has been since the Red Wings won their last Stanley Cup.

The moment — and it was a true moment — was a tremendous cap to an sizzling evening that saw Big Sean celebrate his full body of work, from his early roots to his current success, and solidify his status as one of the city’s titans. And as much as it was about Sean, it was also about Detroit, and Sean continually gave it up for the city and the fans who packed the Joe for the biggest concert of Sean’s career, proceeds from which benefited his children’s charity, the Sean Anderson Foundation.

It was the most focused and the most driven Sean’s ever been on stage. He rarely let up over the course of the two-hour show, showing the conditioning of a prize fighter as he blazed through dozens of verses and rarely paused for air. He didn’t do it alone — the night was stacked with guests, from Lil Wayne to Mike Posner to Jhene Aiko to his “Detroit Vs. Everybody” family — but he was the star of the show and he carried it like a champion.

It was an emotional evening for the 27-year-old, who closed with a performance of “One Man Can Change the World” and gave an impassioned speech about Detroit and his rise from the city’s west side.

“Oh my God,” Sean said, crouched down on one knee on stage as fans screamed. He knocked his microphone stand over, stood up, and stumbled to regain his footing.

“Detroit. This is the best day of my life, man,” he said. “You know, I’m at a loss for words, but I’m not ready to get off stage because I’m not ready for this to be over.”

He proceeded to pump up the crowd and thank the fans for their support. “Thank you Detroit, from the bottom of my heart, I love you,” he said. “We’re the best city in the world, we’re the best at everything.”

Fans go crazy during the Big Sean concert Joe Louis Arena on Friday night.

There wasn’t a false or hollow moment in the show, which moved along at a brisk pace but never felt rushed and was given a slick visual presentation.

Sean opened the night emerging on the roof of a set built to resemble a Detroit city block, with a neon-lit liquor store next door to a run down church. He appeared as the lurching opening chords from “Paradise,” a track from this year’s “Dark Sky Paradise” album, blasted through the arena, which was full save for a patch of empty seats in the back of the building.

Wearing a camouflage jacket and a pair of Yeezy snow boots that made it look like he’d just returned from a trip to the moon, Sean popped down to the stage and tore through the song’s second verse a capella, spitting his lines with a ferociousness that showed he was dialed in and ready to go the distance.

For the next two hours he gave a guided tour of his career, from pre-fame buzz-building tracks (“Too Fake,” “Supa Dupa Lemonade”) to early hits (“Dance (A$$)” has rarely sounded so colossal) to his mixtape material, with his “Detroit” mixtape getting a special spotlight.

Big Sean brings “Paradise” to Joe Louis Arena on Friday night.

Dej Loaf joined him early on, roaring like a lion through “Try Me” and “Be Real,” and the two traded verses on their duet “Back Up.” Southfield’s Mike Posner, an early friend and collaborator of Sean’s, came out for “Smoke and Drive” and his own “Cooler than Me,” and Jhene Aiko backed Sean on “Beware” and the moodiest, darkest track of the night, “I Know,” during which the two engaged in a slow, grinding dance.

“It’s only gonna get better, baby,” Sean told the crowd a little over an hour into the set, and just then Lil Wayne emerged through a trap door in the stage to the booming sound of his own “A Milli.” Dressed in grey sweats, black and aqua sneakers, sunglasses and a black cap, Wayne was all smiles and boundless energy as he manhandled “Rich as (expletive),” “Love Me,” “How Many Times” and “Deep.”

“Me first?” Wayne asked Sean as they eased into “How Many Times,” a playful piece of unrehearsed banter that showed how much fun they were having on stage. At the close of “Deep,” the two gave each other a long embrace, and as Wayne walked off stage Sean recalled listening to Wayne’s mixtapes in the mornings when he was on his way to Cass Technical High School.

As the night went on the hits got bigger, and Sean cut a swath through “Blessings,” “Mercy,” “I Don’t Like” and “All Me” late in the set. “Party, feel good, sweat as hard as you can, let’s go,” he told the crowd as “IDFWU” kicked in and Joe Louis shook from the fevered reaction.

Then came the “Detroit Vs. Everybody” performance — the first time it has ever been performed live — which was bigger than Sean, bigger than Eminem and bigger than the song they performed. It was a statement for the city and about the city, which had been the narrative of the concert all night long, and has more or less served as the narrative of Sean’s entire career to this point.

Sean’s material is largely aspirational in nature, threaded with tales of his own hard work and his quest for success, and Friday’s concert represented the pinnacle of his journey. There’s no doubt it will be a tough one for him to top. And there’s no doubt it will be thrilling to watch him do it.