For a musical artist who thrives on spontaneity and "the moment," there's no better platform than the live show.
The same goes for an artist who has leaked countless mixtapes -- compilations of original material interspersed with tracks sampling instantly recognizable work by other artists -- to the ether of the Internet.
Rapper Lil Wayne (Dwayne Carter on his tax returns) fits both descriptions. So Buffalo was fertile ground Friday night for Wayne, whose nascent "I Am Still Music" tour came to sold-out HSBC Arena.
The New Orleans native (and ex-convict who in November completed his months-long service to the state on a weapons charge) boasts a long stretch of successful recorded albums. But they're underwhelming compared to his live presence. So it was with great enthusiasm that fans have been looking forward to his 30-city tour featuring pink-haired hip-hop songstress Nicki Minaj.
A delayed entrance befitting a rapper at the top of his game built anticipation. Then Wayne appeared at the end of a thrust stage to thunderous cries.
Clad in a crisp white T-shirt, checkered Vans fresh out of the box and black jeans slung low, the dreadlocked MC -- known to many simply as "Weezy" -- opened with "Bill Gates" and let loose a sick flow of bragging and braggadocio.
"Word cannot express the feeling I get when I step in front of people like yourselves," he said afterward, while flashing a sparkle-studded grin and clearly grateful for the opportunity to perform live again.
"I ain't [expletive] without you," he added later.
Backed at first by guitar, bass, drums and a DJ, Lil Wayne has brought the concept of "rap-rock" back from the depths it sunk to. Perhaps due to his rap origins Wayne has refreshed the combination -- like putting a shiny new coat of paint on a clunker.
The set was highly theatrical with no stage clutter and Wayne's Young Money record label logo fixed firmly at the center like the hood ornament of a luxury car -- a reminder of his early days as a Cash Money Records protege of the likes of Juvenile.
Wayne could disappear or reappear anywhere in the vertically oriented stage setup -- sort of a rap concert version of the Hollywood Square set.
Things really picked up when Wayne rhetorically asked, "Can we go mixtape on 'em?" knowing full well that the crowd would feed off it.
"Sky's the Limit," "Right Above It" and others came later as special guests joined Wayne on stage for one-offs. Wayne took a moment to praise his forerunners, including Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G., the recently deceased Nate Dogg and Michael Jackson. The next-big-thing Minaj was expected to join Wayne during his set and take the spotlight, too, but her performance began too late for this edition.
The night began with a DJ/drummer set from Beastie Boys turntablist Mix Master Mike and Blink-182 skin pounder Travis Barker. They each set up shop in the speaker of a giant cutout boombox that would impress Radio Raheem. It was not unlike the boombox tattooed across the drummer's shirtless torso.
The duo sampled Beastie Boys tracks, the title track from Barker's new solo effort, "Give the Drummer Some," and even some Outkast -- "B.O.B" ("Bombs Over Baghdad") -- at the very end.
Sandwiched between the acts was Miami rapper Rick Ross, who challenged the audience with repeated calls-and-returns of "self made" between giant deluges of his "late-night music." Though Ross seems highly character-driven, the crowd was enraptured as he blew through the heavy South Florida beats of "MC Hammer," "Hustlin' " and "Blowin' Money Fast."
Lil' Wayne featuring Nicki Minaj