The greatest? If you don’t say Weezy then just don’t say it at all

by Ryan Snyder

Lil Wayne steps up his game in a big way for the I Am Still Music Tour. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

It`s safe to say that nowhere else on planet Earth was there a parking-lot scene like the one that manifested at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex last Friday night. In one corner, Lil Wayne’s ambitious, guest-laden I Am Still Music tour headlined inside the big room. On the other, Glenn Beck’s comedy of errors packed the War Memorial Auditorium. Outside, pink-haired Barbie dolls in leather corsets exchanged uncomfortable glances with Old Glory-shirted septuagenarians. Across the street, a women’s group bullhorned mantras that could have been targeted at either party. Divine coincidence was in play, or else it was a masterstroke from a programmer with a wicked sense of the absurd, but the most incredible irony was in deciding which crowd contained the greatest number of white folks.

Just to be clear, it was Wayne’s. But really, no one should be surprised. That’s just the appeal of one Mr. Weezy F. Baby. There’s enough forked-tongued wit, morally-absent verses and gangster largesse in the 28-year old rapper’s immense discography for all of the 15,000-plus hip-hop purists, cool dads and their preteen chaperonage, scantily-clad party girls and stone-faced Gs in the Coliseum crowd. Part of his crosscultural appeal comes from him being the most ubiquitous rapper alive before being locked up; the rest, well, look to humor-laced verses like, “Gs move in silence like lasagna,” from his most recent single “6 foot, 7 foot,” for a better understanding.

If you’d guess that Wayne would go big in his first headlining tour since leaving Rikers, you’d be correct. On his stage was a massive 3-by-5 wall of LCD screens that lit up as a disembodied voice declared that Inmate No. 02616544L was no longer in custody at that facility. Projections of a stock-still Wayne and a bevy of dancers popped into view, before the image of Wayne bottomed out like an 8-bit video game character. The scene exploded into a torrent of pyrotechnics, searchlights and big sound from his live band as he opened with his Drake collabo “I’m Goin’ In.” It’s not a current single or a big seller from way back when, just another hot joint among many that Wayne put out. It was a mixtape track at that, but that’s just how he operates; little distinction was ever made between the plethora of mixtape tracks he dropped and the radio-ready album cuts he propped them up with. But if you asked a hardcore Wayne fan to choose, however, money is on Dedication 2 over Tha Carter III almost every time.

Free of both the purple drank and the green plant (sobriety a provision in his probation), Wayne was focused and his herky-jerky flow was in top form. In reestablishing his throne, however, Wayne had a lot of help. Everyone but Glenn Beck showed up at some point during the night to pay homage to the newly free Weezy. Mack Maine and a gaggle of female ninjas joined him for the bombastic “Got Money” and again later for the sex jam “Bedrock,” and his mentor and manager Birdman made a commanding appearance during “Money to Blow.”

Some guest spots didn’t come with the same gravitas, however. He introduced a young protégé Lil Twist for “Love Affair,” whose comically bad shtick was to be a mix of T-Pain, Christopher “Kid” Reid and Lil Romeo, though it shouldn’t surprise anyone if it were Wayne’s attempt to simply goose the anti-AutoTune crowd so soon after it became acceptable to hate on tinny robot voices. For further evidence that there’s a little bit of a trickster living inside Wayne, he later played “Prom Queen,” a song no one wanted to hear off of the one album no one asked him to make.

Lil Twist was succeeded by Shanell, a singer rumored last year to have had a baby with Wayne who was given a sincere endorsement as the pair dueted for “I’m Single.” With a gang of dancers behind her and looking like a heel from the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, Shanell’s short set is about where the show started to tailspin. The reckless energy that Wayne exuded for the last 45 minutes had all but felt evaporated by the time Nicki Minaj made her long-awaited appearance. Dressed in a tie-died one-piece that accentuated her ass implants (c’mon, the real thing of that size would have shaken like a bowl of jelly) and a cotton candy bouffant, Minaj brought the room back for a time with the spitfire verses of her Eminem collaboration “Roman’s Revenge.” The crowd through the twos in the air from the opening notes to the “Did It On ‘Em,” and Minaj took the song’s message to another level of dirty when she produced a dildo and pretended to spray down her dancers as she sang “If I had a d–k I would pull it out and piss on ‘em.”

It was a complete set within a show, and she packed in all the trappings of a full-on Nicki Minaj concert. She debated whether it should be a guy or a girl who would be the lucky recipient of a lapdance before picking out one lucky Statesvillian to whom she assigned three rules: legs open, hands behind the back and mouth shut. She made the requisite costume changes, appearing in a tulle skirt for “Right Thru Me” and onward. She even had time to address the crowd with a few empty platitudes. But her 10-song shift eventually did feel like an island in the midst of Wayne’s ocean. There were moments of greatness still to be mined, particularly the Kanye-less “Monster,” but it was nonetheless a challenge to the attention span of anyone indifferent to Minaj’s music.

Even Rick Ross, arguably the biggest rapper to come up during Wayne’s incarceration and a willing cursory act despite being a label boss in his own right, struggled to meet the demands set upon him by Waynedom. With a two-story portrait of himself hanging at the back of the stage, it felt as if Ross, who’s been the target of more parody videos than Rebecca Black, peaked in the middle of his set with his hit “BMF.” Maybe the anticipation of actually seeing the platinum-selling Maybach Music chief was simply more exciting than the lackluster results, or maybe it was that he followed an other act that was essentially not followable.

Practically no one saw the unannounced opening set by Cash Money protégé Porcelain Black, an indigent woman’s Lady Gaga, but numbers swelled once Travis Barker and Mix Master Mike were unveiled inside a gigantic ghetto blaster at roughly 7:20 p.m. The duo’s sound couldn’t have been better framed, as the massively funky beats emanating from within played like a mixtape of old school breaks, rock and choice hip-hop samples.

Mike’s pairing with the once and future Blink-182 drummer was a deviation away from the anarchic blasts of noise that he made with juggernaut Praxis drummer Bryan “Brain” Mantia 15 years ago, particularly during the somewhat more prescribed bits from Barker’s solo debut Give the Drummer Some. Some moments, however, were reserved for vintage Mike turntable terror. When the lights went on in the right speaker where he was housed, Mike made multiple references to his head-rattling scratches and cuts on Praxis’ Live In Poland, starting with a dizzying sample of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre’s “Natural Born Killaz” with the specter of Barker flaying his kit in the dark on the opposite side.

Once the light came on in Barker’s side, though, the set was clearly his; Barker’s a natural hip-hop drummer with transfixing body language, capable of monster beats. The nightlong parade of unexpected guests began once the duo were deep into his album, with Yelawolf performing “Let’s Go” and the Cool Kids doing “Jump Down,” and eventually ending with Cory Gunz and Maine joining Wayne for “6 foot, 7 foot.” That was nearly four hours later. In that time, more than a dozen different performers helmed the spotlight, Wayne actually played the guitar this time around, and every part of the Coliseum could reasonably say they made a memorable connection with the guy who claimed from the start, “You are no longer being entertained by just a rapper, but by one of the best f–king things to ever happen to music.” It wasn’t a totally perfect show, but Wayne just might be the best thing going in hip hop.