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Lil Wayne's New Year's event? Not in Tampa

When you're Lil Wayne, life moves pretty fast.

Late Monday afternoon, the superstar rapper — or someone claiming to be him — said in a phone interview that his New Year's Eve party at Club Empire in Ybor City was a done deal. "I will be in Tampa, bringing in the new year at Empire nightclub," he said. "We're just gonna show up, do our thing, hang out for a minute."

But within 24 hours, Empire co-owner and general manager Ken Grossman pulled the plug on the party. "I promise you that Lil Wayne will not be in Tampa," a frustrated Grossman said, adding that it would be "club suicide" if they promised an appearance by the hip-hop icon, and he bailed.

Probably a good call, considering Lil Wayne reportedly already had a $250,000 contract to host a New Year's Eve party at a club near Chicago instead.

So what happened?

Welcome to the shady world of nightclub promotions, in which promoters, club owners and artists make big promises, but often fail to deliver. What initially sounds like a done deal — Lil Wayne is gonna ring in 2011 in Ybor City, guaranteed! — can quickly go south due to backroom politics, celebrity flakiness or — more often than not — cold hard cash.

"The budget that was spent for him to be here, he will be here," said Anthony Scott Jr., the promoter behind Lil Wayne's Chicago show. Scott said he flew to Atlanta to confirm the deal in person with Lil Wayne's manager, Cortez Bryant. He even filmed the contract signing.

When you're promising a big name at your party, and charging fans up to $150 per ticket, every little bit of proof helps.

"Just charging someone a cover at the door and saying you're going to have a chance to see someone, that's not going to be enough, nor should it be," said Michael Bilello of Centurion Strategies, which handles marketing for the Venue nightclub in Clearwater. "The onus is really on all of us as partygoers to do our due diligence."

Bilello found this out the hard way in October, when the Venue hosted an event promoted by an outside company, and supposedly starring LeBron James. He, and dozens of clubgoers, waited until 3 a.m. for James, who never showed.

"The next day, the radio was ripping up the Venue and ripping up the promoter," he said, adding that some patrons' money was refunded. "We took unnecessary flak because the promoter dropped the ball."

•••••

Grossman said he felt good about the Lil Wayne event Monday night. There was even a contract in place, though a specific appearance fee was not disclosed. Grossman lined up $6,000 worth of fliers, banners and radio advertisements to promote the party. "I had very viable sources that this was all good," he said.

But who were those sources? The man who brokered the Empire deal on behalf of Lil Wayne identified himself as Justin Jamar, the rapper's road manager. All week, Jamar has insisted Weezy will still appear in Tampa on New Year's Eve — if not at Empire, then another local club. He said they're even planning to stop by University Mall in Tampa at 2 p.m. Friday so Lil Wayne can hobnob with fans.

When informed about the Chicago contract, Jamar got testy. "We'll be there at 2 o'clock. If Wayne is not there, we're not there, point blank, period," he said before hanging up the phone.

A spokeswoman for Bryant Management, which handles Lil Wayne's appearances, said Thursday that this just wasn't so.

"Wayne is not scheduled to perform in Tampa," said Sarah Cunningham. "Bryant Management has confirmed that he is performing and booked to appear in Chicago."

As for Jamar? "He does not work with Lil Wayne, does not work with Bryant Management, does not work with (Lil Wayne's label) Young Money. Lil Wayne will not be in Tampa New Year's Eve."

Understandably, Grossman is glad he backed out.

"I've been doing this business for 19 years. I've seen it all, I've been through it all. But the one thing I won't do is take someone's money and have someone not show up.

"I've spent 60 hours on the phone, time away from my wife, my children. I just feel like I've wasted so much time. I'm so angry. I need to move on."

•••••

Still, one question remains. If that wasn't Lil Wayne who talked to radio stations and tbt* on Monday, promising he'd be at Club Empire, who was it?

"All of the radio drops that have been taking place are not actually Lil Wayne; they're actually an impersonator," Cunningham said. "It's all part of some elaborate scam."

It's unclear whether Lil Wayne himself knows anything about this mess. On Thursday morning, he Tweeted the following:

"A windy city new year!"

There was no mention of Tampa.

Lil Wayne's New Year's event? Not in Tampa 12/30/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 30, 2010 3:17pm]

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