The Band’s final show was titled “The Last Waltz,” and Friday night’s Lil Weezyana Fest could be dubbed “The Last Bounce.”
“The Last Waltz” was a star-studded last call for the ’60s, while Lil Wayne used his show at Bold Sphere Music in Champions Square to highlight the sound that shaped his music. In the process, he brought out guests who presented an alternative history of the ’90s in New Orleans music, one not built around aging R&B and funk greats.
It was easy to be skeptical beforehand about a show that never announced any talent other than Lil Wayne, who’s old news in a hip-hop world that loves the newest thing. He’s locked in a legal battle with his label that keeps his music largely under wraps, and the last few albums were hard to get excited about.
Onstage though, he reminded the nearly 10,000 fans in Champions Square just how good and how smart he can be. He spoke of Lil Weezyana Fest as the start of a yearly thing, and it had enough going on to make a second sound intriguing.
The show promised special guests, which prompted speculation that it would include Drake and Nicki Minaj — both alumni of Lil Wayne’s Young Money clique. On Friday, a rumor spread that Kanye West would appear.
Of them, only Drake made an appearance, as he has at many of Lil Wayne’s special shows over the years. He enthusiastically endorsed Lil Wayne as a rapper and mentor, theatrically sneaking onstage to perform a short set that included his “HYFR” duet with Lil Wayne and the hit “My Way” that he recorded with Fetty Wap.
“I learned from the best,” he said.
Most of the other guests Friday night were from New Orleans, and many came from the bounce world that influenced Lil Wayne.
He got out of the way to let Big Freedia and her dancers electrify the crowd for five high-energy minutes, then joined DJ Jubilee and knew many of the dances Jubilee named in an extended “Get It Ready.”
Jubilee had one of the more subtly effective Hurricane Katrina-related moments when he performed part of his “What’s the Name of Your School.” The song that once name-checked most of the city’s high schools now served as a list of what was lost. Jubilee performed it with his usual good-time style, but it served the purpose nonetheless.
Katrina was understandably a thread through the show, with a lot of talk from the stage about survivors, and a short video package of Katrina’s devastation opened the show. Fifth Ward Weebie performed his “Katrina Song,” and Lil Wayne pulled out his rarely performed mockery, “Georgia Bush,” for the occasion.
The song was just one stop on a night when Lil Wayne covered a lot of musical ground. In the 2½-hour show punctuated by guests, he played at least a verse or chorus of 42 songs, not including six performed with Juvenile, Turk and DJ Mannie Fresh as part of a reunion of the Hot Boys, the rap group that launched his career in 1996.
He went back as far as 2005’s “Tha Carter II,” but much of the set came from his incredibly productive period between 2005 and 2008 when he released numerous mixtapes as well as the acclaimed “Tha Carter III.” He also performed a track from the recently released “Free Weezy Album,” which so far is available only on the Tidal streaming service that also streamed the show.
Throughout, Lil Wayne’s voice sounded like the subtly flexible instrument that it is at its best, which made it possible for him to choose the right vocal tone for each song. His energy also was more controlled than at other shows in recent years, where he often bordered on manic. That allowed the show to build to the Hot Boys reunion.
As theater, that segment was unfocused, with Juvenile, Turk and Lil Wayne wandering the stage, sometimes interacting with one another, sometimes working the crowd. Musically, it returned to a time when New Orleans hip-hop albums went platinum, as the Hot Boys’ 1999 album “Guerrilla Warfare” did, and Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up” and B.G.’s “Bling Bling” put Cash Money Records on the national music map.
B.G., the fourth Hot Boy, was unable to perform because he is serving time for felony gun possession and witness tampering. He was remembered with “Free B.G.” shouts from the stage, but the moment was far more about how strong those songs were, and all three performers remain intense enough to make the songs sound strongly felt.
The Hot Boys reunion wasn’t the only news of the night. In the ’90s, Cash Money and No Limit Records were rival rap labels, but on Friday, Lil Wayne invited No Limit leader Master P to the stage, where he and his posse performed his biggest hit, “Make ’Em Say Uhh!”
Lil Wayne shows are often erratically paced, and Friday night’s had its missteps. He brought the energy way down with the slow jam “How to Love,” which revealed the limits of his singing voice, and he brought out members of the relatively unknown current Young Money clique after the Hot Boys’ segment to perform little-known songs from “Free Weezy Album.”
After Drake, the crowd started to leave, but Lil Wayne wasn’t done quite yet. “This isn’t how we end a New Orleans show,” he said as the Free Agents Brass Band strolled onto the stage, which was filling with performers and guests from the wings.
A fireworks show shot off at an ADD tempo and drowned them out, but the idea was a good one. At a time when Lil Wayne’s place in the rap world isn’t clear, he showed you can go home.