Review

Lil Wayne Celebrates New Orleans’ Musical History at Lil Weezyana Fest: Live Review

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There hasn't been a better sense of hometown pride in New Orleans than this scene -- all of the attendees at the first annual Lil Weezyana Fest dancing to every call and response to DJ Jubilee's perennial classic "Get It Ready." If you needed a crash course in the history of New Orleans bounce music, Lil Wayne was your historian Friday night (Aug. 28) at the Bold Sphere Music at Champions Square, reliving old moments and creating new ones in front of a sold-out crowd.

Since announcing the inaugural event on July 7, Weezy has kept the details at a minimum in order for the surprises to really catch you off guard. However, like he's done in the past, Wayne announced that he's giving back to his city and Hurricane Katrina victims by donating the festival's proceeds to various charities through the Greater New Orleans Foundation and Tha Carter Fund, which supports after-school programs in Louisiana. After facing scrutiny for his last release, Free Weezy Album, he was prepared to give his fans a memorable live show and establish a foundation for what could be Wayne's own OVO Fest.

Wayne's music hasn't been the center of attention this year. It's been more about the drama surrounding the often-delayed Tha Carter V and his dispute with his former mentor Birdman. In the past, Baby and Weezy have been the inseparable forces that make up Cash Money/Young Money, but the empire has been crumbling as Wayne is adamant about suing Cash Money for $51 million. To make matters worse, they have made other headlines, stemming from Birdman's alleged drink throwing fiasco at Club LIV in Miami to being named as a co-conspirator to murder "his son" in an indictment of Wayne's tour bus shooter Jimmy Carlton Winfrey. (Birdman would later deny any involvement.)

So, Lil Weezyana Fest was an opportunity to re-shift the focus to his impressive career in hip-hop that's been two decades strong. Playing next to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Wayne's event felt like an outdoor festival, but without any curveballs in the line-up that would make you want to sit anyone out. While the energy was at a lull because he was almost an hour past his 8 p.m. start time, fans immediately snapped back into it when a montage of Wayne speaking on Hurricane Katrina and his famous interview with Katie Couric hit the big screen. The suspense continued when his house band started to play the familiar sounds of "Mr. Carter," which was met with a sea of screams as our main attraction came out in all-white attire with a black fedora.

"Number one, we all ain't shit without God," the rapper said after a few songs into his set. "Number two is I ain't shit without you, ya dig? And number three is the most important one ladies and gentleman and that is: I ain't shit without you!"

Wayne wasn't a man of many words last night. When he did speak -- whether it was revealing to the audience that Ms. Tee raised him as a child or saying that he enjoys Big Freedia's reality show Queen of Bounce -- they were all signs that Weezy is very in-tune with his hometown roots.

He mixed familiar material from Tha Carters (III and IV) and FWA with songs from N.O. legends. Ms. Tee, one of the earliest women signed to Cash Money, performed "Tell Me Why." Big Freedia got the whole crowd twerking with his energetic brand of bounce music. Fifth Ward Weebie, another staple of the local scene, ran through "Let Me Find Out" and his regional hit "Fuck Katrina." In these instances, Wayne took a step back and paid his respects, seemingly letting his special guests know that he was grateful for gracing the stage next to him.

When he returned to his own catalog, Weezy stayed on course with his newer songs: "6 Foot 7 Foot" (Cory Gunz assisted with his verse), "Loyal" and "How to Love" all got adequate pops from the crowd. However, when Wayne performed the FWA single "My Heart Races On," it was almost silent. Even an appearance by the hook's singer Jake Troth couldn't really save it. "Lollipop," his 2008 single that dominated the Billboard Hot 100 charts at No. 1 for consecutive weeks, also received some blank faces in the crowd, especially after he only half-sung some of the lyrics.

"I'm going to bring out my homie who can actually sing," Wayne said jokingly in what may have been a reaction to the crowd's waning attention. Here comes August Alsina.

After his short set of bedroom jams like "Hold You Down" and "No Love," Wayne took this portion of the concert to show recognition to the mixtape series that made him who he is today. No Ceilings, the Dedication tapes and the Da Drought series were all highlighted as he played his own mini-version of Jay Z's B-Sides concerts, even throwing in Tha Carter III leak standouts like "I'm Me" and "Kush." Since the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was on Saturday (Aug. 29), Wayne also played portions of "Georgia … Bush" and saluted all the Katrina survivors in the crowd.

At this point, Wayne's career timeline started to kick into high gear. He continued paying homage to his mixtape days by bringing out members of Sqad Up -- including Dizzy, Gudda Gudda and G-Unit's Kidd Kidd -- for "We Ready" and "Guess Who's Back" off the mixtape SQ4. The crew evolved into Young Money 1.0 when Mack Maine and Curren$y came out for "Knuck If You Buck" and "Where Da Cash At." The latter performance marked years of tension behind them after Spitta's departure from Young Money, and the pair coming together for the love of their city was huge. With former and current Young Money artists showing love to Wayne, it was the perfect segue for the Hot Boys reunion we all came to see.

Mannie Fresh, Turk and Juvenile electrified with an equal set of solo and group records. The band sounded like they were still rapping together, feeding off each other's energy that gave the crowd new life. "Still Fly" and "Set It Off" were suitable warm-ups to "Bling Bling" and "Project Bitch." Noticeably absent was B.G., who is currently serving 14 years in federal prison, but they made sure to give him proper shine with a joint performance of "Uptown Thang" with his mom on stage waving an airbrushed "Free B.G." tee. For diehard fans of Hot Boys, you also got to see "Millionaire Dream" and "I Need a Hot Girl" live, as well as Juvie's biggest hit "Back That Azz Up."

Wayne clearly doesn't have any worries when it comes to his situation with Birdman. In a night filled of big moments, arguably the biggest of them all was Master P and No Limit. "Make 'Em Say Uhh" still has the staying power as many other performances earlier, encouraging tons of people to turn up to P's wild movements on stage.

"Y'all make some noise for my dog Lil Wayne," Master P said right after, acknowledging that the unity of No Limit and YMCMB has been years in the making. Mia X also made a rare appearance, and Master P promised that his No Limit Forever crew was back in the studio making music.

For the people watching through Tidal's stream, Wayne's final surprise (Drake) was suddenly cut due to some alleged issues with Apple Music. In a report by Page Six, Tidal would have faced a $20 million lawsuit if they went against Apple Music and streamed Drake's set. BuzzFeed spoke to Drake's management and confirmed that Apple didn't threaten Tidal in a lawsuit, despite their snarky claim that they were "interfering with artistry." In fact, it was reportedly Drake's decision to not participate in the live stream.

A representative for Tidal sent Billboard the following statement about the incident: "We have all the email receipts and written correspondence that took place with said, blocked performance. That being said we choose to keep it classy. Great show to all the performers. Great performance Wayne. God Bless New Orleans. 10 years stronger."

When Drake took the stage, he told the crowd, "I stood side stage for this whole show. I watched my idol and my hero kill this shit ... I'm ready to have some fun, though. I don't like to do the long talking."

More hits came from the 6 God: "Truffle Butter," "My Way" (Remix) and "Know Yourself." Just when we thought Meek Mill and Drake's beef was over, he ended his portion with "Back to Back," a diss track that broke into the Billboard charts in the wake of their feud.

"I learn from the greatest, ain't nobody gonna touch me," he said.

Lil Wayne's send-off after nearly three hours of performances came straight from the heart.

"Way before I even met Cash Money, this was a dream I had," Wayne said. "I had a dream to one day stand on this motherf----n' stage and be able to bring out all the New Orleans legends and still be the one standing at the end of the night. A lot of people asked me how do I feel about what's going on, and I say..." Cue "No Worries." Possibly another shot at Birdman?

But this isn't how he's going to end a New Orleans show. With a full brass band and fireworks that went off until midnight, Wayne proved amidst all the doubt of his relevancy in 2015, Lil Weezyana will always show love to the best rapper alive.

Lil Wayne - Bold Sphere Music at Champions Square / New Orleans / Aug. 28 Album Review
4.5 STARS