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Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009

Lil Wayne @ The Marcus Amphitheater

Sept. 2, 2009

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It would have been a symbolic collaboration: hip-hop’s original rock enthusiast passing the torch to the genre’s most recent evangelist. Run-DMC rapper DMC, by coincidence visiting Milwaukee the same night as Lil Wayne’s America’s Most Wanted tour, from the show tweeted his plans of joining the headliner to sing “Walk This Way.” Though the duet never materialized, Wayne performed the song without DMC, pretending to play a candy apple red guitar as his band did the heavy work.

Times have changed since Run-DMC long ago proved that rap and rock pair as perfectly as chocolate and peanut butter. Subsequent combinations of the two styles have smelled more like ammonia and bleach, so it’s understandable why some Lil Wayne followers are up in arms about the rapper’s plans to follow up his commercial and creative pinnacle, last year’s Tha Carter III, with a rock album, Rebirth. Not since Bob Dylan’s 1965 Newport Folk Festival concert, perhaps, have fans felt so betrayed by a musician embracing electric guitars.

Wayne’s magnetic, super-sized performance Wednesday, though, should allay concerns that his sudden affinity for rock somehow precludes him from the rap he does best. He spent about half the show backed by a band that, contrary to weighing him down, only further fed his gleeful, wild-man enthusiasm. Even tracks that seemingly needed no adornment, like “A Milli,” hit that much harder with the extra punch of swelling guitars and ferocious live snare snaps (the exploding pyrotechnics displays helped, too).

Though more than 100-minutes long—the rap equivalent of a marathon, three-hour Bruce Springsteen concert—the performance nonetheless felt breathless; several major hits were pared down into melodies in the rush to include everything. The momentum only slowed when Wayne put the spotlight on his Young Money label signees, the tour’s true purpose. Wayne’s most in-demand protg, Drake, was benched with a torn ACL, and while Jae Millz had a hit of his own to lean on (“Ain’t I”), and the label’s lone lady, Nicki Minaj, exuded genuine star power, upstarts T-Streets, Tyga and Lil Twist lacked Drake’s easy charisma. Their quickie showcases, though, were a small trade-off for such a generous show, the time-share presentation that made possible an otherwise blissful vacation.