Musical fusion was on full display at rapper Lil’ Wayne’s sold-out I Am Still Music tour at the Staples Center Friday night. Throughout the concert, the rap star and his many guests married lyrical word play with the high-powered sounds of electric guitars and live drums. Relying less on traditional rap hype-men and DJs, the night’s performers created an exciting blend of rock-meets-hip hop rebel music.
Singer Porcelain Black opened the concert, performing her recent single “This is What Rock and Roll Looks Like” for the few audience members who arrived on time for the 7 p.m. show. Seats began to fill as Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker took the stage.
The “rap concert” started when rapper Rick Ross hit the stage. The crowd cheered as the heavy-set rhymester, wearing baggy jeans, a white T-shirt, and a sparkling neck chain, filled the arena with the words “I think I’m Big Meech, Larry Hoover,” from his hit song, “Blowing Money Fast.” Men and women in the crowd recited his machismo and expletive-laden lyrics from memory. The jarring sound of gunshots punctuated each song in his short set, but no one seemed to flinch.
Nor did the crowd mind that Ross stood in place the entire set, his choreography consisting of nodding his head and waving his arm. Ross repeatedly told everybody to put their hands in the air, Simon Says-like instructions typical of typical rap concerts. Before leaving the stage he performed the song everyone was waiting for, “Aston Martin Music,” both a contemplative love song and an ode to the luxurious car. Though featured on the song, Drake was not in attendance to perform his part of the chorus, but the record played his voice and the crowd gave Ross thundering applause.
After a short break, the night’s main star rose from the floor at the edge of the T-shaped stage. With 15 large screens behind him, two guitarists, and pyrotechnics accentuating his key lyrics, Lil’ Wayne brought rock back to the stage. Wearing skinny jeans, an army-fatigue shirt and a Lakers cap, the heavily-tattooed artist filled the stadium with his gurgling, raspy voice and his signature brand of bad-boy energy.
The rapper served jail time in 2010 for gun charges, but it seemed his fans were ready for his return. The 28-year-old lyricist needn’t have said half of the words to songs like “A Milli” and “Got Money,” the crowd volunteered them all. Darting from one side of the stage to the other, Lil’ Wayne commanded their attention.
For much-needed breathers, he brought out multiple guests, but none more anticipated than his colorful Young Money label-mate, Nicki Minaj. The curvaceous rapper hit the stage in a Skittles-colored body suit and a matching afro-styled wig for what turned into the second-longest set of the night. She performed songs like “Roman's Revenge” and, wide-eyed and mannequin-like, she played the Barbie role she is known for.
Though her rapping was skilled and her stage presence intriguing, something lacked in Minaj’s performance. She hid her singing voice behind talented backup singers and the crowd seemed to expect more drama from the risqué artist. Even her hit “Moment for Life” didn’t garner the boisterous response that I expected.
The energy continued to wane after Wayne reclaimed the stage with rappers Birdman and The Game. Even the rapper’s most recent song, “6 Foot, 7 Foot” off of his upcoming album, Tha Carter IV, fell somewhat flat.
It took unadulterated lyricism to win the crowd back. “I’m lookin’ in the rearview and I see the world in it,” Lil’ Wayne said during an impressive a cappella free-style that closed out the show. Alone at the edge of the stage, sans all the rock elements and guests, his heartfelt rhyme got the loudest applause of the night.