Telling my friends that I was covering the Lil Wayne concert was a touchy subject. “Fuck that. I wouldn’t even go if I got a free ticket. Any rapper with Lil or Young in their name is wack,” one of them told me. That’s a shame, because tonight’s opening act is Youngsta, a local mc from Wynberg who won an online voting contest to open up for Weezy. At 19 years-old, Youngsta boasts a 23 mixtape repertoire, has released a full-length album and rocked big boy stage shows all over Cape Town. He may catch flak for a put on American-tinged accent, but I think his determination and level-headed self-confidence, easily misconstrued as rapper egotism, places him deservedly up on that stage and he earned my vote.
I’m not really a fan of Lil Wayne, but before being quarantined to the hater section of this polarised real vs fake, east vs west, commercial vs underground subculture, I’d say it’s just not for me. From the little I have heard, his rhymes are punchline-driven PG 13 pop-gangsta-rap, but you’ve got to pay respect for the way his catchy lyrics have popularised puns with which he ends every second line. The purists will tell you that he’s not “conscious” enough and how he mercilessly flaunts his wealth, misogyny and senseless violence, which is true, but since I don’t take hip hop as seriously these days I’m actually kinda looking forward to a little rap ‘ignance’.
We arrive at the Bellville Velodrome to a swarm of people mainly in their young teens to early twenties. This is where you begin to understand the purists’ plight. The kids are a mirror-image of the rapper’s consumer-driven rhymes. This must be Lil Wayne’s “Young Money Militia”. Everywhere you look is a cap, t-shirt and sweatshirt boldly emblazoned with the letters YMCMB, which stands for the grossly redundant string of words that is Lil Wayne’s record label, Young Money Cash Money Billionaires. Since tickets cost up to R 750 a pop I’m thinking Pocket Money best befits these young’uns. The high-end sneakers are squeaky clean. A popular garment worn by the girls to cover their nether regions are hoochie-style cut-off jeans that allow for just a little butt cheek to peek out the back. You can see the self-conscious ones trying to pull them up a little, realising it was a big mistake. We hang around the entrance till the floodgates open up and a rabble of stampeding teens whoop and cheer their way into the stadium.
It’s about an hour later that Youngsta steps out on stage. The crowd is filtering in steadily. Golden circle is half full and there’s a large grouping of people on the other side of the fence in general standing. This must be the largest audience Youngsta has ever faced, but he pulls it off seemingly without nerves. His rhymes are intelligible and engaging with throwback choruses to boot that incorporate even those who clearly haven’t heard him before and he freestyles about the YMCMB clothing people in front of the stage are wearing. One of the notable attributes of a Youngsta set is his choice to rock over a variety of beats that appeal to multiple audiences. Tonight’s pick is nu-skool, mostly commercial, and the odd 90s boom bap flavour that sits well with the audience.
There’s an overwhelming clamminess in the air, so after the set I decide to spend the next hour strolling outside for fresh air and getting toe-up while taking advantage of the free refreshments in the media room. Another hour goes by and I’m getting anxious, like if I don’t get back down immediately I’m going to miss something big. You can tell the crowd feels the same; even though the stadium is lit up bright and there’s only a Drake CD being pumped through the sound system, their eyes stay transfixed on the stage like Lil Wayne might pop up any second. I join the melée and do the same.
The lights are dimmed and the place resonates with thunderous bass. High pitched screams added to the mix make for ear-splitting decibel levels. Weezy has arrived with skateboard in hand. He starts rapping straight off the bat and gives us some high-energy showmanship, bouncing along to either ends of the stage. The feeling is infectious and the crowd is losing their shit well into the greetings after the song. Then he breaks off into “A Milli” and although his nasal tone struggles to break through the booming bass I’m more impressed that he is backed up by a 4-piece band and maintains the buckwild intensity of a bona fide rock star. Later on, during “Drop the World” he even grabs a guitar and strums along, albeit like an awkward kid playing Guitar Hero. One thing about Weezy is that he has hits for days. He churns them out one after the other. And almost everyone in that sold-out show could recite them word for word. To them he’s the greatest rapper in the world, but they can be forgiven because they have never heard the likes of Sean Price or Elzhi.
The great moment of rap ‘ignance’ arrives after the heart-rending “How to love”, a song about a girl-turned-stripper after being hardened by the ugly ways of the world. Weezy feigns holding back tears and gives us a shpiel about how the song gets him teary-eyed because he has a 13 year-old daughter. Then he fucks it all up by dedicating the next song to all the ladies who are each “the single most important thing in the world”. It’s” Every Girl” which has him air-humping and singing the mantra “I wish I could fuck every girl in the world, I wish I could fuck every girl in the world, I wish I could fuck every girl in the world.” That classic moment will remain in my memory for a very long time.
But Lil Wayne’s engaging stage presence and eccentric personality are enough to disarm even the staunchest hater and I enjoyed the entire hour and a half set. The crowd have their hands in the air up until the end of the encore as I edge toward the periphery and get ready to jog back to the car before they all pour out.
*All images © Luke Daniel