Big pimpin’

Before the Cash Money Millionaires even enter Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum, host T.K. Kirkland, raunchy comedian about town, is setting the tone for the night, insulting the fans, spitting loosely thought-out invective, throwing backstage passes at women who, well, look like they merit backstage passes. The passes also go to rappers and singers who flood to the side of stage for their moment in the sun. One teen impresses Kirkland enough to make it onto the main stage, and then proceeds to drop a blistering rhyme about uprising against white America in reprisal for centuries of slavery, culminating in an order to castrate white men. White high school juniors with buzz cuts and boots nod and smile uncomfortably. After all, isn’t this what hip-hop’s all about?

More so than last year’s Hard Knock Life tour, the Cash Money/Ruff Ryders extravaganza is all about the confluence of numerous raciosexual spaces in one venue. Teenage thugs, iced down and draped in bandannas, sit next to suburban white girls dropped off at the show by their parents. Fathers sit next to their children, unsure of whether to plug the kids’ ears or share the good time with them. Middle-class white kids decked out in Fubu and Lugz sway their arms in what I can only imagine they think is “gangsta” fashion and get booed by the crowd, which betrays a mix of enmity and shame, not to mention what comes off as a paternalistic pat on the head. Hey, they’re trying.

Yet for all the frisson in the audience, the stage show manages to one-up the crowd’s energy. The Hot Boys soar in on a rigged helicopter and perform before an oversized Rolex backdrop left over from the Think Big closeout sale. The low-hung sign announces the boys as the Cash Money Millionaires. Hell, they could be talking about the sum value of the jewelry the cats wear—Brian “Baby” Williams alone sports $100K in his mouth. “Expensive conversation” is what he calls it.

So expensive, of course, that it’s hardly worth the time. Might as well cut right to the chase and bring on the girls! Of course, that’s the finale, so wait a minute. The Cash Money folks, for all their floss, only have a few genuine hits. They slog through reduced versions of them one after the next, only stopping to chant antiphonally with the crowd “I need a project/Bitch!/A hoodrat/Bitch!

So let the search begin—five willing (I swear) women are plucked from the audience and given a chance to strut their stuff to the mellifluous sounds of “Back That Azz Up” (no clean version here). It’s clear who the winner will be, so clear it’s almost as if she is planted for the purpose. Sporting a black leather bikini top with matching fur-trimmed skirt, she wastes no time in dropping to the floor and displaying her earthly, unclad goods to the crowd (average age 17). As the contest champion, she’s treated to a 10-foot-long inflatable phallus, which expands so the tip just reaches her. She’s uncomfortable for a moment, so clearly the victim of unchecked misogyny, then turns to the balloon and does what’s expected of her, grinding against it before dropping to the floor and continuing her gyratorial shimmy. This time, though, she flips onto her back and wiggles her legs excitedly in the air. B.G., a scant 18, gapes openly. Cash Money associates peep the spectacle and swarm around her with lust in their eyes. Soon she’s swaddled in a jacket and ushered backstage. There’s no good ending to that story.

Just ask Eve, who’s already gone public on MTV expressing her distaste for the open hot girl auditions. Out of all the acts on the tour, Eve is the only one the teenage hardrocks don’t rap along with, only chiming in on her verse from Missy Elliott’s “Hot Boyz” and the opening line to the domestic abuse allegory “Love Is Blind”: “I don’t even know you and I hate you.” Why that song? Because even after these kids get past Eve’s silky femininity, they see her as their dog, and what is “Love Is Blind” other than a “Dead Homiez” for the female set. She’s a ruff ryder.

As for the rest of the team, they inspire religious devotion, but none more so than the Dark Man himself. DMX closes the show, coasting in on a cage suspended over the audience. His set is the longest of the night—only half album cuts and still everyone knows the words. Gaggles of white girls who a decade ago would have been attending hair-metal shows dance together on the balcony chanting “Fuck all day! Fuck all night!” in perfect time with X. There’s no lust in their cries, just the collective exultation of pop mania, which in the Clinton years has taken on new dimensions of race, class, and sexuality. Fascinating, but probably not enough for a backstage pass.

The Ruff Ryders/Cash Money tour hits the Key Arena Thursday, April 13.