Pre-concert music has long been a chance for headlining acts to honor their heroes, to highlight musical trailblazers who helped pave the way. So in the half-hour before rapper Lil Wayne took to the stage at 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre on Wednesday, he made sure to crank the tunes of the man he loves the most: Lil Wayne!
Haha! This guy is bonkers! But before you go thinking the 28-year-old Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. a.k.a. Weezy F. Baby (a.k.a 500 other goofy monikers) is merely a so-serious vanity case, let it be known that he's also the only rapper alive who can pull off the braggadocio of a cut called We Be Steady Mobbin' while wearing furry-animal sneakers.
But in front of 12,500 fans who knew every clever, twisted, filthy lyric, Lil Wayne did just that, grinning that megawatt smile and hopping about like a wee tattooed sprite — and not a dude who just did serious prison time for firearm shenanigans.
Bounding about on a flashing three-tiered stage that also held a DJ, a full wailing rock band and plenty of writhing backup singers, the New Orleans-born emcee was a self-deprecating chatterbox for 90 minutes, flirting with fans and ferociously spitting cutthroat hits in a voice borrowed from Froggy in the Little Rascals.
He's cuddly! Adorable even! He's also a heck of a showman, making sure people got bang for bucks. A steady brigade of four opening acts warmed up the already sweat-streaked young throngs. R&B upstart Lloyd and crooning counterpart Keri "Pretty Girl Rock" Hilson failed to get much of a rise from the crowd. But electro-clashing producer Far East Movement was much more than ubiquitous hit Like a G6. And big, booming Rick Ross, Florida's Teflon Don, was hustlin' to get the crowd amped with thunderclap raps like 9 Piece.
But with all due respect to the openers — not to mention most other rappers, save maybe Jay-Z and Kanye West — there is no one like Lil Wayne. He's one of the few acts these days, in any genre, that can move a million copies of a new album in its first week of release. And when he drops upcoming Tha Carter IV on Aug. 29, he'll no doubt do it again.
Why? Because he's an original, a transcender of genre for whom rhyming is a full-body pursuit. He first appeared onstage wearing one red shoe, one blue shoe, rocketing out the fury of I'm Goin' In and Bill Gates. He's a self-made millionaire who sees opportunity on one side, violence on the other — but has a Bugs Bunny cartoon rolling in the cinema of his brain at all times.
Weezy looked ticked off at first, but soon enough he pulled off his shades and broke character: "I love every single one of you," he smirked, then commenced a rambling, and hilarious, defense of why that wasn't normal rock-star cliche. Then back to business: tearing off the hypnotically wicked A Milli and Got Money, sending the masses into a grindy frenzy.
He'd occasionally lose momentum, stepping off the stage too much or giving way to protege and rumored love interest Shanell. But then Weezy would explode back, coughing up Go DJ, Wasted, Mr. Carter and I'm on One.
Let me tell you something, Mom and Dad: America's youth may often appear wayward, lost in a maze of Jersey Shore vapidity. But rest assured that Lil Wayne's popularity — a total iconoclastic nutter who goes against all accepted commercial avenues — is actually a sign that the kiddies are doin' just fine.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467.