The Weird, Southeastern State of Hip-Hop

“Did 2 Chainz already perform?” my friend asked as we pulled up to the amphitheater gates. He had just checked the time as we got off the bus – it was 9:30. We were worried that we had missed his set; hoping (but not necessarily happy) that we had just missed T.I.

“He just got off stage,” the amphitheater staff member told us. “Wayne’s ’bout to go on next.”

Our spirits sunk. We turned to the rest of our friends who were filing in behind us to tell them the bad news. The look on their faces was that of devastation. Forget the fact that we hadn’t missed the headliner – we missed 2 Chainz. And I think that’s about the point that I realized how weird the landscape of Hip-Hop has become.

Lil’ Tunechi

It’s no secret that trap music is the dominating force informing mainstream Hip-Hop. Acts whose sound is native to the Southeast are the genre’s biggest stars and are also pop culture’s biggest fixations. Rick Ross, Gucci Mane, Nicki Minaj, Waka Flocka Flame – all hold their own relative cultural currency. The person responsible for this is undoubtedly the America’s Most Wanted Tour’s “marquee name”: Lil’ Wayne.

Wayne started in Cash Money Records when he was just 15 years old. Like other young acts out of New Orleans in the late-90s, he could’ve faded into the background along with everyone else after the industry machine ate them up and spit them out. Instead, he constantly re-branded himself through prolific mixtape releases and a propensity to get increasingly strange in his delivery. Consumers gravitated towards him because of his oddity until that oddity became watered down. He has since become more of an endorser; giving other artists their start through Young Money. He’s essentially become Birdman, if Birdman still thought he was contributing to Hip-Hop.

Lil’ Wayne-featured appearances barely hold any weight, and his own song “Rich As Fuck” is cherished on the basis of a 2 Chainz cameo in chorus form alone. There are people who still respect his music, but his new skateboarding shtick feels a bit contrived. In a Mountain Dew commercial, his message is to “Dew You” rather than to “do you,” which makes his attempts at being different seem like a business strategy. In the end, aside from some appearances, Lil’ Wayne’s performance pretty much summed up his career at this moment in 2013 – headliner with fleeting relevancy.

The start of his show began by gradually lighting up the backdrop of a sky line. Then, he appeared on stage at the end of a wild pyrotechnics show. He was also appeared in the form of a winged demon on a projection screen behind him explicitly telling the crowd that he was not a human being. There was great fanfare to this entrance, and he promptly went into a medley of hits that ranged from “Steady Mobbin'” to “Lollipop.” After the short-lived admonishment, people started to coalesce into a meandering crowd until “Don’t Stop” came on. Everyone went wild until they realized that neither Rick Ross or Drake was in attendance. My attention was given to the skateboarders who were weaving their way around hired dancers and doing tricks with all the enthusiasm of The X Games, considering Charlotte as its host city.

T.I. came back on stage to perform “Ball” with a very warm welcome back. T.I, at the moment, is enjoying a resurgence thanks to guest verses on songs like “Blurred Lines” and “Upper Echelon,” which reflected in the crowd. But Mr. Harris came and went under some foreshadowing of the who the night’s true star was.

The mood went from tepid to electric as soon as 2 Chainz walked out among machine gun snare drums. It felt as though people were waiting for an encore from his first set and just kind of tolerating Wayne. In an appropriate turn of events, “Rich as Fuck” was performed, followed by “Duffle Bag Boy” – a callback to when he was Tity Boi (of Playaz Circle) and not a guest star on America’s Most Watched Network. I was watching a 35-year-old who seemed to have a better hold on what was happening in pop than his benevolent contemporary.

As Wayne has adjusted his style (and his relationship with recreational drug use), he has painted himself as a broadly accepted character. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. Rap has become eccentric and weird; tastes are more niche driven. 2 Chainz’s lyrics may come off as earnestly corny sometimes but for every misstep there are guilt trips about his Benihana issues and a chance to shine when Federal agents come knocking. His interest in high fashion more compelling than Wayne’s new and gimmicky obsessions.

The night was capped off by a special guest appearance, which has happened several times throughout the tour. When Birdman came out to perform “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy,” it was underwhelming. They then performed the newly released Rich Gang single “Tap Out,” which feels like a gasp for attention on the charts. It was here that the crowd started to leak out slowly and head to their cars – not even captivated by the final collaboration. In the end, I started to contemplate what the Nashville leg of the tour was like when up-and-comer Travi$ Scott performed. Scott’s music is a moodier, atmospheric take on trap that rappers a little bit more concerned with the artistic merits of the culture are starting to utilize.

Wayne could be better served by teaming up with someone like Scott before he turns into the man he idolizes on “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy.” But hey, if he just wants to board because he actually enjoys it – that’s, like, his thing, man.

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