Review: Lil Wayne at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
A dominant hip-hop force’s set contains plenty of jubilation, and his band pushes familiar hits into new stylistic territory.
When Lil Wayne introduced himself Friday night at Irvine’s Verizon Wireless Amphitheater as “a 28-year-old self-made millionaire,” it wasn’t his gains or how he got them that left an impression. It was the reminder of his age.
No less a dominant force in hip-hop than Jay-Z (41), Eminem (38) or Kanye West (34), Lil Wayne has achieved more before his 30th birthday than most rappers do in a lifetime. His success registers on whatever scale you use to measure it: albums sold, sure, but also radio play, YouTube views and ticket sales — not to mention the reaction of the audience in Irvine when he tossed what appeared to be an asthma inhaler from the stage.
What’s most surprising about Lil Wayne’s youth, though, is that he doesn’t seem particularly young. Much of that is attributable to his voice, preternaturally raspy since his teenaged days in New Orleans’ Hot Boys. (Among his more revealing nicknames is Weezy.) And, of course, there’s the endearingly genteel comportment that famously led him to tell Katie Couric in a 2009 interview, “I’m a gangsta, Miss Katie.”
But Lil Wayne’s primary claim on a sense of experience beyond his years is the Zen-like certainty with which he operates; he never seems to be in a rush to get anywhere, even when he’s running or riding a skateboard, as he did repeatedly across the stage at Verizon. Friday’s concert came near the end of Lil Wayne’s I Am Still Music tour, his first since being released from jail last November after a conviction on a gun-related charge. (The show also included performances by Rick Ross, Keri Hilson, Far East Movement and Lloyd.) And although his nearly two-hour set contained plenty of jubilation, it always felt as if it was working toward something: a statement, a demonstration, a stockpile of evidence in support of Lil Wayne’s assertion that he’s the best rapper alive.
He is without doubt one of the most versatile. On Friday his five-piece band pushed familiar hits into new stylistic territory, Lil Wayne adapting his delivery to match the fresh settings: soft-focus R&B in “Lollipop,” meaty rap-rock in “A Milli,” parched jazz-club balladry in “I’m Single.”
Even then-unreleased songs from the rapper’s latest album, “Tha Carter IV” (due in stores Monday), received renovations; Lil Wayne rapped “Nightmares of the Bottom” a cappella, stretching out lines about fame’s hidden costs like a contestant at a mid-’90s poetry slam. Or perhaps like a returning champion at a mid-’90s poetry slam: None of these rearrangements had the iffy air of an experiment about them; their results were safely predetermined.
Lil Wayne referred to his time behind bars only fleetingly, before “Miss Me,” his 2010 collaboration with his protégé Drake, and as usual his words circumscribed a subject in a way that put it out of reach of others’ interpretations. Thanks to the encouragement of his fans, Lil Wayne said, he’d spent eight months at Rikers Island without feeling like he spent a single day in prison.
It was a formulation you suspected he’d rehearsed before the cell door closed.
Photo: Lil Wayne performs in concert at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times