T.I. and Lil Wayne, two pillars of Southern hip-hop, took the stage at the Comcast Center on Sunday night, with both staking a claim to their illustrious pasts while looking ahead to the future.
Like other rappers who have made the transition to acting, T.I. seemed particularly motivated to remind the audience that he’s still an artist, and that he played a major role in shaping the current Southern hip-hop scene back in the early 2000s. Emerging from a set modeled after a typical front porch of his hometown Atlanta, he vigorously ripped into “24’s” and “You Don’t Know Me” before launching into a two-step routine for his verse on Robin Thicke’s current smash “Blurred Lines.” His high-energy hits “Bring Em Out” and “What You Know” brought the loudest responses, but the inclusion of emotional and reflective cuts “Still Ain’t Forgave Myself” and “Live in the Sky” showed a lyricist whose depth often gets overshadowed amongst his radio hits.
Wayne’s career hasn't breached Hollywood just yet, but since hitting his commercial and creative peak in 2008, the New Orleans native has seen hip-hop change around him: The ascendency of Drake, Rick Ross, and Kendrick Lamar has altered tastes and expectations in Wayne’s world. His response has been to dig his heels further into the well-worn ground he’s cultivated to great success – bombastic, witty celebrations of his greatness and sexual talents, delivered with a tongue-in-cheek charisma to soften the blow.
To that effect, Wayne’s performance was as efficient and professional as ever. First, the bombastic: Emerging to thrashing arena-rock electric guitars and skateboarders gliding across the stage doing tricks on a couple of small ramps, he had plenty of fuel to pour on the fire, which was literally shooting up in the air from the prop barrels during the appropriately unsubtle “Rich as [expletive].”
A lack of compelling recent solo material was no problem, as the wealth of tracks he’s featured on — from Juicy J’s “Bandz a Make Her Dance” to Drake’s “She Will” and French Montana’s “Pop That” — provided more than enough to offset still stunningly awful single “How to Love” off his rap-rock bomb “Rebirth.” Amidst all the special effects and on-stage stunting, Wayne did provide a glimpse of his maturity when he apologized to the family of Emmett Till for including a less-than-sensitive reference to the slain 14-year-old in one of his songs.Martín Caballero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @_el_caballero.