It's been seven months since Weezy was freed. Seven months of court-prescribed sobriety, and seven months of speculation over whether the embattled rapper can maintain without his precious green matter and purple drank. But at Bonnaroo of all places, where temperance isn't exactly the norm, he quashed any doubt about his clear-headedness. Backed by a five-piece band, a dance troupe, and a handful of Young Money up-and-comers, Lil Wayne was spry, sober, and swaggerful as he tore through 32 songs for the tens of thousands who crammed the field in front of the Which stage Friday night at 1:30 a.m..
There was no Nicki Minaj to spar with, and no Drake to croon hooks, but Wayne was present enough to make up for both of them. Dressed equal parts hyphy misfit and hipster skater -- yellow tank, zebra-striped shorts, turquoise socks, white backpack -- he sprinted out to crushing drums, wailing guitar, and turntable skronk, then ran through a medley that culminated in Chris Brown's impossibly infectious "Look at Me Now." The crowd was pleased, and so was Weezy.
"There are three things you need to know about me," he said. "One, I believe in God. Two, I ain't shit without you. And three, most importantly ..." He paused to flash that million-dollar grimace. "I ain't shit without you."
But enough with the humility. From there Weezy went straight into "A Milli," prancing and flailing while gaudy clipart dollar-signs danced on the massive screen behind him. Later he'd rap about himself in the third person ("I'm Me") while the Jumbotron broadcast a seven-by-five mosaic of his album covers. The egoism of the moment was as staggering for its redundancy as for its shoddy imagery.
But all of those dancing Benjamins and freeze-frames of Wayne playing other concerts didn't take away from what was actually happening on stage. He spit breathless fire without the aide of a vocal track, and the band was exceedingly tight, nailing the abrupt transitions between songs built in to avoid those pesky guest verses.
Plus, they did get spectacle right on occasion. Namely, each time Young Money's Shanell waltzed out to bless a song with her diva-huge pipes, and whenever Wayne play-acted with the dancers, who detained (and searched) him for "Mrs. Officer," and played the in-song sirens of "Single."
The set bounced through the Weezy oeuvre, going as far back as Tha Carter's "Go DJ" (at which point his old producer Mannie Fresh strutted across the stage); hitting a handful of tracks from 2008's Tha Carter III ("Phone Home," "Lollipop"), 2009's No Ceilings ("Wasted," "Ice Cream") and last year's I Am Not a Human Being ("Bill Gates," "Popular"); and including one-offs like his Wiz Khalifa-countering Super Bowl anthem "Green and Yellow."
Unfortunately, the audience wasn't spared a few from his rock record, Rebirth, but the chunky nu-metal chords of "Runnin'" and Wayne's misguided bleating on "Prom Queen" were a small price to pay for the night's big finish.
Forget fireworks, ballerinas and wardrobe changes -- there's nothing better than seeing a man rapping in his prime, and after a truly soulful showing from Wayne on the new one "How to Love" (think martian blues set to acoustic strum and E-40's wonky bass), he annihilated "6 Foot 7 Foot," also from August's upcoming Tha Carter IV. Wayne climbed down from the stage and marched through the audience, only to return to the spotlight and lie on the floor while rapping like a seizuring fiend, sweat and dreadlocks pouring out from a head seemingly possessed by demons.
He stood, threw up the metal horns, and ran through his "three things" once more before leaving. A shout-out to the big guy, a nod to the crowd, and for the third, he had the fans say it: "You ain't shit without us." Weezy's back.
Look at Me Now (by Chris Brown)
Right Above It
Green and Yellow
Love Affair (by Lil Twist)
Motivation (by Kelly Rowland)
Hustle Hard (Ace Hood remix)
Welcome to My Hood
Every Girl In the World
Pop Bottles (by Birdman)
Miss Me (by Drake)
Forever (by Drake)
Drop the World
How To Love
6 Foot 7 Foot