Aftermath: Lil Wayne at Toyota Center
Photos by Mark C. Austin
Lil' Wayne makes me think about how complicated oatmeal is. Because what is it, this oatmeal? Is it breakfast or is it glue? Is it what gives you everything necessary for fulfillment or is it that stuff that everyone used to eat but now avoids because of its clumpy disposition and ironic runniness? Does it get better or worse the more you sprinkle on top? Is it something original or is it a cheap rip-off of everything that came before it?
It's all very confusing. So is Lil Wayne. Is he a rapper, is he a singer, or is he the perfect combination of both? Can there even be such a combination? Is he what's next in hip-hop or is he just trying to be Tupac? Is he really an actor or is he just messing with us? Is he worthy of all this critical acclaim, or is he merely the symbol in which the Grammys are using to make themselves relevant again after a long history of shitty nominations? And for the love of God, who does he think he's kidding with that guitar?
And while we didn't get all the answers Thursday night at Toyota Center, one thing was clear - Lil Wayne is the most important artist in the world. He is the epitome of what it means to be the idea of urbanity in a country run by an administration who disallows such ideas from being recognized as important. Lil Wayne means so much to so many people that it's hard to fully articulate his place in the diachronically diverse world of the anointed.
And that's what Lil' Wayne is - the (as he plainly states) "definition of the word definition." He is the anointed one; the rapper/singer extraordinaire with skills so sharp they may well have been plucked from the toolbox of an evil dentist straight out of a kindergardener's nightmare. But he is not Jay-Z, he is not Biggie, he is not Tupac, and he is not Andre 3000 (or Erykah Badu). He is something bigger, and he is something better.
Weezy carries the weight of speaking for an entire generation of complacent young people who have for years been ignored by people in power; he carries the extra weight of representing a geographic area (the South) that seems to be desperate for a hero. And heroic he is. In front of an amazingly enthusiastic crowd of over 15,000 people Thursday night, Lil' Wayne took to the stage and did not disappoint.
Standing in front of an elaborate yet simple set, if you compare it to the circus T-Pain brought with him, Weezy made his way through a good chunk of his catalog, going all the way back to the astounding mixtape years and continuing through his first solo record and on to the more well-known (and more accessible) stuff from Tha Carter III.
There were balletic fireballs dancing in sync to Lil' Wayne's rhymes; there were suspended stages stood upon by various musicians at various times (cellist, bassist, keyboardist, DJ); there were giant screens that were weirdly unnecessary; there were huge blasts of smoke shot up what seemed like 20 feet into the air; and there were of course the songs.
"Mr. Carter" opened the show, but it seemed only a prelude to what would come after, because the crowd wasn't fully engaged with the performance just yet; that changed when "Got Money" ended and T-Pain joined Weezy on stage for a battle that made what seemed like every person in the audience get up and start dancing.
There were the old standbys, of course; the songs where Lil' Wayne didn't even need to be there because the whole pulsing crowd knew every pulsing word to every pulsing beat - and the songs seemed almost better that way - "Comfortable," "Phone Home" and "Lollipop" being just three.
I think the highlight of the night, though, was "Mrs. Officer," which has Weezy singing and rapping about his tryst with the police. In it he sings, "And I know she the law and she knows I'm the boss/ And she know I can hide above the law/ And she know I'm raw, she know I'm from the street/ And all she want me to do is fuck the police."
Before you ask, yes, I agree, it's genius. Lil Wayne is a shark among surfboards in the hip-hop industry. Nobody can touch him, and he seems to know it, owning the stage and commanding the audience with such flair you'd think he was the glitter on a leopard print.
But it's not about the songs with Lil' Wayne, and it's not about the stage production. It's not about the guest rappers or the backup singers, and it's not about the pyrotechnics. It's about what he is doing for hip-hop. It's hard to explain his importance because he transcends linguistic signification. He is the symbol and the sign - something like an ellipsis graffitied next to the words 'You are Here' on the side of a subway train with the brake lines cut.
Wayne stands alone in a genre that is incredibly transient and saturated in such a way that implies strangulation, but he seems fully confident with his position on the throne. We were lucky to have him here Thursday night, like we all communally experienced something akin to seeing Michael Jackson in his prime. Lil' Wayne defines. - Brandon K. Hernsberger