Better than: Rap shows without fireworks and fake gunshots
"I apologize to the parents who brought their kids, because of the cussing," said Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. at the end of a nearly two-hour set on Friday night. "I need to let you know that this is a Lil Wayne show, but I do apologize."
Families were noticeably in the mix at the Shoreline stop of rapper Lil Wayne's "I Am Still Music" tour, and our seats were located in between a couple of rows of what looked like parents with their teenage children. One mother in front of us, sandwiched between her young son and even younger daughter, frequently looked bewildered or embarrassed as her kids pumped their fists in the air. But one mom in back, clad in a halter top as tight as her child's, danced and whooped right along with the crowd, along with the curses and the scantily clad dancers, and deep into the heart of Lil Wayne's wordplay and tooth-rattling bass.Earlier in the night, Miami's Rick Ross came onstage amid disarming booms of fireworks and faux bullet pops; it was the first time we've heard the latter employed on a rap stage, and found it a bit unsettling for a second.
"When I came up hustling," he said after opening up by offering his verse on Ace Hood's "Hustle Hard," "I took game from niggas like Mac Dre. I learned to hustle from niggas like Too $hort." (He'd later shout out another homegrown rap star with his song "MC Hammer," whom he said he'd wanted to emulate as a kid.)
Ross, born William Roberts, certainly took cues from the successful independent Bay Area rappers by making himself a permanent fixture in the studio in his early days. He ghostwrote for other rappers and singers before he blew up five years ago (with his own song called "Hustlin'") -- a background that has helped ensure continued longevity and popularity, serving up vivid rhymes about being a drug kingpin even after his past as a correctional officer was revealed.
"Pablo! Noriega! The real Noriega, he owe me a hunnid favors!" Ross bellowed on "Hustlin'," and while it's not technically true, his authoritative delivery on records such as this, "B.M.F.," "John Doe," and "9 Piece" allows for a great suspension of disbelief. He was decidedly more charismatic on stage than when we saw him in the Bay Area two summers ago, alternating between throwing his limbs out in Christlike formation and striking a strongman pose. He plugged his "coming soon" album, God Forgives, I Don't. That's already a great name, but it will be even better if he goes after 50 Cent, with whom he had an ugly rivalry a few years ago, on at least one of the songs.More fireworks, more fake gunshots, and a bank of screens projecting flames ushered Lil Wayne to the stage. After introducing himself ("This is the Lil Wayne I Am Still Music Tour, and I am Lil Wayne"), he stated that there were three important things that people need to know about him: "Number one: I believe in God, do you? Number two: I ain't shit without you, you dig? Number three: I ain't shit without you, you dig?"
He offered full versions of his original songs from the four albums under the theme of The Carter, guest verses from other tunes (Kelly Rowland's "Motivation," Chris Brown's "Look at Me Now") were teased out, and DJ 4-5 spun earlier songs from Wayne's teenage years with his former Hot Boys crew (B.G.'s "Bling Bling," Juvenile's "Back That Azz Up"). Signed to New Orleans' Cash Money label since he was nine (he turns 29 at the end of the month), we've witnessed hip-hop's most successful and most exuberant child star grown up.
He occasionally got on top of a skateboard and rode it up a tiny half pipe. He pretended to get emotional and preface what we thought might be one of his songs about Hurricane Katrina and instead launched into "Every Girl," which has a chorus of, "I wish I could fuck every girl in the world." It was a funny example of the cheekiness that often peeped through his performance.
He even picked up a guitar and displayed some decent shredding for "Prom Queen," off of Rebirth, his rock-tinged album, and then thanked his fans for supporting that project even when he didn't have time to promote it because he went to jail for most of 2010 on a weapons charge.
"I was on Riker's Island for eight months, but thanks to you, I didn't spend one day in jail," he said, thanking fans for writing and supporting him during that time. He offered a snippet of Drake's "Miss Me" and expressed gratitude for being missed when he was gone. If we felt anything concrete from him, it was his appreciation for his audience, which he constantly engaged throughout.
His stage presence and ability to project his voice was even more apparent when Bryan "Baby" Williams, who Wayne credits as a father figure, joined Wayne momentarily on stage and was quickly dwarfed by him. Where he can come off quite monotone on record, the natural melody in his voice escaped during the moments when his microphone wasn't filtered through a vocoded effect.
Wayne's 12-year-old daughter, Reginae, came onstage for a quick hug; before, he told the crowd that being a parent is paramount to him and he tells her every day that the world is hers if she works hard enough. He offered his parental apology before his last song ("6 Foot 7 Foot," with the assistance of New York's Cory Gunz), then repeated his three most important things from the top of the show before declared himself the best rapper alive, and having a man drape a fluffy white robe over his shoulders. At first, we thought this was a tribute to James Brown, but as he turned around, we saw a different name emblazoned on the back: Muhammed Ali.
Personal bias: Know the words to a few too many of Rick Ross' cocaine anthems. I think I'm Big Meech.
Random detail: Red panties were on sale at the merch booth, perhaps a nod to Wayne's oft-proclaimed gang affiliation?
By the way: Lil Wayne's album debuts at number one on this week's Billboard chart with first-week sales expected to exceed 700,000 copies.