X Games Aspen: Lil Wayne’s power hour
In little over an hour on stage Friday night at X Games, an energized and fiercely focused Lil Wayne powered through 28 truncated songs. By the time the rap legend left the stage to a booming “Weezy!” chant from the sold-out crowd of 5,000 on the mountainside at Buttermilk, he’d covered tracks from a decade-and-a-half of his catalog and showcased much of his new “Tha Carter V.”
The New Orleans-bred rapper played with a five-man band of live drums, guitar, bass and keys in a addition to DJ T.Lewis (Wayne proudly introduced the crew several times as “my band, my one-man band and the man-behind-the band and the fam”). They added drum fills, bass grooves and flourishes of guitar wails in new arrangements behind T.Lewis’s smooth production and Wayne’s intricate rhymes. (His seamless integration of the live instrumentation makes you think that, maybe, his much-derided detour into rock experiments on “Rebirth” a decade ago were worth it to get to these kinds of exhilarating live shows.)
After a chaotic stretch of years in both his personal and professional life – including a jail stint and a split from his career-long home at Cash Money Records – you might expect less. But this Lil Wayne – propelled by the release of the long-delayed, long-awaited “Tha Cater V” in the fall – was dialed-in and made a case that he still may be, as T.Lewis proclaimed at the end of the show, “the best rapper alive.”
Lil Wayne paced the stage as he spun out flawless verses, he worked “X Games” into the lyrics of “Got Money,” he led quick call-and-response bits and sing-alongs on fan favorites like “Mrs. Officer,” “A Milli” and “I’m Me.” He pulled out nuggets from features and collaborations like “No Problem” with Chance the Rapper and 2 Chainz and “The Motto” with Drake, while peppering the night with throwbacks for longtime fans – a giddy rip through “Go DJ” from the original “Tha Carter” was among the set’s high points.
As he took the stage just after 10 p.m., Lil Wayne let out a laugh and yelled “It’s f-ing cold!” But after that he didn’t complain about the sub-freezing temperature, didn’t say a thing about the thin air at altitude, didn’t break to hit an oxygen tank as local audiences have come to expect from touring musicians. Instead, he reveled in the cold and the rowdy X Games crowd. The rare moments when he paused were to repeat his mantra of “I ain’t s–t without you” and to spout gratitude for the fan support of his new record.
He performed much of the new album, including a rapid-fire successive run through “Let It all Work Out,” Dedicate,” Let It Fly,” Open Safe” and “Mona Lisa.” He closed the night with the ecstatic “Uproar.”
But it wasn’t all fireworks. Wayne slowed down the propulsive set for the R&B jam “What About Me” and a reverent rendition of the mournful “Don’t Cry,” his newly released collaboration with the late XXXTentacion.
Lil Wayne plays again in Aspen on Saturday night downtown at Belly Up. The X Games venue will host sold-out shows on Saturday from Louis the Child (5 p.m.) and The Chainsmokers (9:30 p.m.).
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The literary nonprofit Aspen Words is restarting its writers-in-residence program that had been on pause during the pandemic. Residents include “Call Me By Your Name” author André Aciman. Public events begin June 15.