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Lil Wayne's Summer Jam Set Was a Long-Deserved Triumph

On Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, the rap icon made his first appearance as a free agent on the ten-year anniversary of 'Tha Carter III.'
Photo by Taylor Hill / Getty Images

There’s something about newly acquired freedom that bolsters the aura of a rap star. First, there’s the build up with “FREE _____” t-shirts and tweets circulating on a daily basis. Then there’s the all but guaranteed—and almost always false—rumors of their release date (Max B has a new one every year). By the time they are actually set free, the artist’s legend has grown so much that just the concept of them being back out on the street calls for actual celebrations. If we’re lucky, we’ll get the traditional “First Day Out” freestyle to help with that, too.


Lil Wayne has had a couple of these moments, the most recent coming in unconventional form just at the tailend of last week. Last Thursday, a Billboard report confirmed that Wayne had finally reached a settlement with Birdman and Cash Money records for money that was owed to him over the years. The glee around that freedom felt like a rap holiday. That feeling was amplified even more on Sunday night when the hip-hop superstar took the stage at Hot 97’s 25th annual Summer Jam festival, which coincidentally was the tenth anniversary of his Tha Carter III album.

The conventional “FREE WEEZY” campaign went on from March until November of 2010 when Wayne was serving time at New York’s Rikers Island for criminal possession of a firearm. But the shackles taken off of the New Orleans native last week were not of the physical sort. Just before the settlement was reached, it looked like yet Wayne might be another case of a once larger than life performer destined for disaster, partially due to bad label deals. Some of his peers spoke up over the years, even ones he had been trading bars with. Pusha T and Rick Ross led the charge of rappers calling Birdman out on his shiesty business reputation. "I think the culture has fucking accepted that Wayne would not put out another album. And that’s not the way the game should be,” Ross said in a 2017 interview with Billboard after firing shots at Birdman on “Idols Become Rivals.” Matters also seemed dire on Solange’s “Mad.” Wayne opened the song with “such-and-such still owe me bucks / So I got the right to get buck / But I try not to let it build up.”


Losing artists too early on in life is a tragedy that fans have had to deal with more than we’ve wanted to, but not hearing from an artist as crucial to the direction and style of a genre as Wayne while they are still living is particularly tough to witness. At MetLife stadium on Sunday, Wayne seemed conscious of that kind of shared agony fans were experiencing. The result was a set that exuded a contagious type of triumph over the weekend.

As the cosmos would have it, Wayne’s performance at hip-hop’s biggest stage was the tenth anniversary of his album Tha Carter III, a project that went platinum within a week and looking back, has become the most dead-on forecast of the rock-obsessed, auto tune-utilizing rap of today. The time around that album was also arguably the last period in which the jolly, eccentric, and raw qualities of rockstar Weezy were always detectable. You could feel his joy bleed through television and iPod screens. There was a taste of that last night. After an impatient and anxious crowd welcomed him, Wayne hit a spry bop up to the mic stand, met by the rolling drums and the most fitting words rang off:

Hey Mr. Carter, tell me where you been
They’ve been asking
They’ve been searching
They’ve been wondering

The lyrics were from Tha Carter III standout “Mr. Carter” and the radiant gratitude from onlookers felt like the freeing of a political prisoner. Wayne met the moment in all his glory.

He stood with blond-dipped dreads dangling from under his cap, a fur coat, swimming trunks, shades, and diamond encrusted teeth while clutching the mic. His two golf ball-sized pinky rings often distracted attention from the music. Quirky as all hell, it felt like our rap royalty re-staking claim in something that should have never slipped out of his grasp.

Da Drought 3’s “Ride 4 My Niggas (Sky’s the Limit),” one of rap’s best beat-jackings of all time, came directly after. The song is largely about gassing one’s self up to a point where nothing feels impossible and there couldn’t have been a better time for it. It’s tailor-made for a stadium that holds over 80,000 but more importantly, it capped an extremely emotional ten-minute opening in which Wayne made it clear through his song choices that he recognizes our concern and care for him.

We can’t predict what’s going to happen with Lil Wayne now that he is finally free of an oppressive relationship with a label that not only launched his career, but helped mold him into the adult he’s become. Wayne does not know what life without Cash Money Records is. He’s been helping carry it on his back from his preteens into his 30s. But fortune telling aside, there is something special—even if short-lived—about getting to see an icon who has been dragged through the mud get just a few moments to extend their arms out in victory. There’s also something special about the order of which Wayne’s freeing happened: two days before his Summer Jam set, which also marked a decade since he’d changed rap forever. Wayne’s set only lasted about 15 minutes, but if he can somehow bottle up and channel the happiness he gave off in that moment for his comeback, the future could bring something monumental.

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