It's been a decade since the last time a rapper headlined an episode of MTV's Unplugged (Jay-Z  in 2001, to be specific), so when Lil Wayne  took the stage at Culver City's Sony Studios for his turn on May 13 (the episode airs Sunday night), you could sense an instant feeling of accomplishment.
Grinning ear-to-ear with blindingly blinged-out teeth, he stood tall with a six-piece band behind him and an intimate crowd to his front, all disciples in the church of Weezy and in awe of his larger-than-life persona.
Of course, this was not your parents' Unplugged, and unlike the acoustic sessions of the Nirvana era, Weezy's performance was hardly stripped down; it was amped up.
He began the 18-song set by launching into "Mr. Carter" off his 2008 Grammy Award-winning album, Tha Carter III, during which the audience echoed back nearly every lyric on the piano-driven track, while his backup singer Shanell cooed the song's infectious hook.
In general, Lil Wayne infused more energy into the lurching beats that typically propel his lyrical flow, exchanging drum machine bass thumps and Dirty South cymbal rushes for chunky electric guitars and a full drum set. You could almost say he was stepping into rock star territory, as a trio of songs from his Rebirth record proved soon enough.
Between songs, Lil Wayne got personal. "I was locked up a few months back, and it was people like you that made me feel like I wasn't in there," he confessed, referring to his recent stint in prison. Later, he opened up even more: "A few months ago, I was in a dark place. I don't like to shed light on it. People always ask me how it was. But I never answer. But since I have a beautiful audience, I think I have the perfect song." Wayne then led a soulful version of West Coast rap icon Tupac Shakur's "Hail Mary," changing some of the lyrics to address his own troubles.
He used his bachelorhood as a cause for cheer, but it was clearly a sore spot. Why else would one yell, "If you're having trouble in your relationship make some noise!" Weezy then picked up a guitar and inaudibly strummed the strings, and for the first time in the show, his vocals became drenched in autotune for "Prom Queen." He continued the set with rap-rock crossover "Drop the World," which typically features Eminem.
The only time Wayne's band truly went unplugged was for "Mrs. Officer" and a minimalist slow jam version of his club hit "Lollipop," where acoustic guitars softly accented Weezy's growl. But he was unzipped for much of the show. As in, Weezy's fly was down.
It began during the low-slung groove of his huge hit "A Milli," when Lil Wayne grabbed the mic stand in his best rock star pose and revealed that the barn door was open.
You had to ask yourself: Is it possible that one of the world biggest rappers would jump onstage for a one-take performance without examining his zipper? (He wouldn't be the first music chart-topper to do so: Justin Bieber found himself in a similar predicament at the Grammy Awards this year.) Or was this a new fashion statement symbolic of Weezy's freewheeling style?
Wayne would only notice an hour into the show as the guitars were being put away. Glancing down at his jeans, he shouted at the audience, "Why didn't you tell me my fly was undone?," but immediately laughed off the wardrobe malfunction. It was no big thing considering how much more he had bared that night and throughout his career.
With that, he launched into a new song from his upcoming 'Carter IV' album, Nightmares of the Bottom, followed by his classic "6 Foot 7 Foot" (joined by Cory Gunz, see clip below), on which he delivers one particularly poignant line, "I don't feel like I've done enough, so imma keep on doing this shit."
Lil Wayne Unplugged airs Sunday, June 12 at 9 p.m. on MTV2, MTV and MTV.com
- The Juice