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Review: HIT Music Festival brings Lil Wayne, Nas and numerous no-shows to Tampa's USF Sun Dome

8

November

Going in, the inaugural H.I.T. Music Festival at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa had hot mess written all over it.

Saturday’s lineup was impressive but enormous, all but guaranteeing at best truncated sets, at worst a few no-shows. Plus it was co-presented by WorldStarHipHop, a website that is most definitely in the business of hot messes.

In the end, thousands of fans got what was coming to them. H.I.T. – which stood for History In Tampa – felt directionless and disorganized, with legitimate worries all night in the crowd and on Twitter about which acts would actually show up.

Fans did got the headliners they came for, Lil Wayne and Nas, but at least five promised artists – August Alsina, DJ Khaled, Fabolous, Jim Jones and Tink – did not show up. Khaled and Alsina were apparently already in Tampa, but backed out of the show at the last minute.

“Been here in Tampa for a while now,” Alsina tweeted late Saturday. “Terrible Terrible business conducted here. Sorry to all of my fans that came to support and see a show.”

Even WorldStarHipHop seemed to have no presence at the proceedings, with no mentions or signage anywhere near the stage. And when WorldStarHipHop is backing away from your game, you know you’re doing something wrong.

Hiccups are to be expected at a first-time festival, and organizers Vybe Nation issued a mea culpa of sorts via Instagram, saying they “fell short of our goals… but everything happens for a reason! …

“wasn’t able to accommodate everyone who was supposed to be taken care of, & probably went WAY to (sic) big with the idea, but we did however put 2 ICONIC LEGENDS on the same stage, in a city that most of the entertainment industry considered obsolete or inferior… as a city, thousands came together for an IDEA that most couldn’t imagine of doing.”

No doubt, any bill that actually brings Nas and Lil Wayne together under the same roof is worth enduring a few headaches.

Of the two, Nas delivered the more potent set by far, pleasing the many who’d come for a rare Florida set by one of the East Coast’s all-time greatest. He delivered with a forceful and captivating 45-minute set, kicking off with three tracks from 1994’s classic Illmatic (N.Y. State of Mind, Life’s a Bitch and The World Is Yours) and later muscling through hits like You Can’t Stop Us Now, If I Ruled the World and One Mic. He was joined on stage by no one but a DJ, which was appropriate -- no one there could've matched his mighty flow.

Weezy actually closed the show, though his 35-minute set – while packed with even bigger hits, like A Milli and Lollipop – lacked the sheer force of the one fans had just seen. Still, Lil Wayne is always an impish and engaging presence, with a weird, wonderful wit that comes out on tracks like The Sky Is the Limit and Sorry 4 The Wait. And since he normally plays amphitheaters and larger arenas, this practically qualified as an intimate setting. Considering the frustrating year he's had -- label battles, police raids, etc. -- it could've gone a lot worse.

Everything that came before Nas and Weezy, however, was wildly hit and miss.

The early portions, featuring brief sets from openers both unknown and from around the nation, were a little chaotic, with no real introductions and too many unidentified randos pimping their Snapchats from the stage.

The bigger national acts started with G.O.O.D. Music’s raging and righteous Cyhi the Prince, who shouted out Tampa for being “one of the first places I ever got booked at.” Space-trappy Fetty Wap predecessor iLoveMakonnen set some cell phones waving with his out-of-nowhere hit Tuesday. Buzzed-about D.C. rapper Shy Glizzy did the same with his piano-driven thug-death fantasy Funeral.

And Yo Gotti not only laced his set with bone-disintegrating bass, he actually had lackeys tote out his gold records for I Know and Act Right right there on stage. That’s a baller move, right there.

One problem during the first half of the night: Too many people on stage. Chicago rapper Jo Rodeo brought at least 50 out behind him, some of them snapping photos and passing joints, plumes of smoke floating up to the rafters like dustclouds.

Another example: Waka Flocka Flame delivered one of the night’s most consistently intense sets, his hair whipping around like chains on a cappella verses from For My Dawgs and Let Dem Guns Blam, and even ending his set by performing MGK’s Wild Boy in the middle of the crowd. Yet if you were keeping an eye on the masses behind him on stage -- which included previous performers Trae tha Truth and Rayven Justice -- you occasionally saw people checking their phones like they had nothing better to do. For a performer, that’s not a good backdrop.

One positive note: Since this was the History In Tampa Festival, a few local artists made quality impressions, including 813 O.G. Tom G., who brought at least 35 people to the stage for an arena-pleasing TB State of Mind; DJ Smallz manning the decks behind Yo Gotti; and high-energy openers Cristol and Famous Kid Brick, who spent a chunk of his stage time rolling around on a hoverboard.

The most credit on the night should go to the three emcees, DJ Fresh, Ferrari Simmons and @AR_reek215, who did yeoman’s work trying to keep the crowd stoked while confusion and delays popped up around them. There were too many awkward, songless silences between sets, and they did their best to fill them, with Fresh even doing a couple of backflips for fans’ amusement.

“I’m not getting no motherf---ing money from this s---,” Fresh said good-naturedly before leaving at 11 p.m., 7 hours after he arrived. “I did this s--- for free.”

Lil Wayne ended the night around 1:10 a.m., more than eight hours after the doors opened. That’s a long, long time for fans to be on their feet or in their seats with no guarantee of what was to come, and zero updates anywhere about what was happening (especially since acts like Alsina and Fabolous were teased from the stage throughout the night).

“99% of the people won’t understand how hard we worked & fought to even get the little bit of achievement that we even got,” Vybe Nation wrote on Instagram.

That may be true. And the fans who were there may very well remember History In Tampa. They should, lest they later be doomed to repeat it.

-- Jay Cridlin

[Last modified: Monday, November 9, 2015 1:30am]

    

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