Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., a.k.a. Lil Wayne, a.k.a. Weezy, is at 26 a 14-year-veteran of the hip-hop game. Many people
scoffed when he started calling himself "the greatest rapper alive." That was before the June release of "Tha Carter III,"
his sixth CD (not counting numerous so-called mix tapes and guest appearances), which sold more than a million copies in its
first week and stands as the biggest album of 2008 by any artist in any genre.
Backed by a four-piece band that included an electric bassist who doubled on cello, the diminutive New Orleans MC was given
a hero's welcome by the crowd of 15,000, many of whom rapped along without prompting on such numbers as "Lollipop" and "A
Milli." Unlike his closest hip-hop contender, Kanye West, Lil Wayne doesn't take himself too seriously.
The fun he was having as he skipped about the stage readily transferred to the audience. He switched inflections and pitches
while spitting out seemingly stream-of-consciousness rhymes that reflected the playful rhythmic influence of Missy Elliott.
Lil Wayne began his fast-paced 85-minute set in a white T-shirt, calf-length khakis with a black-and-white handkerchief
dangling from the right back pocket, black tennis shoes and an Oakland A's cap; he later left the stage twice for wardrobe
changes or, at times, went bare-chested to show off the elaborate tattoos that cover every inch of his upper torso and arms
and parts of his face.
At one point, he turned the spotlight over to his DJ and a succession of rising young rappers, including protege Lil Twist,
only to re-emerge incognito in a hooded tiger-striped sweatshirt. It wasn't until the dreadlocks protruding from under the
hood became apparent and he began rapping "Mrs. Officer" that the fans realized that their man was back.
In the hit song, Wayne, who has had real-life run-ins with the law on drug and weapons charges, is pulled over by a policewoman.
The crowd roared in approval as the flirtatious rapper turned the tables and asked for her phone number; "911" was the reply.
Besides performing a duet with Atlanta vocalist Hilson on the tune "Turnin' Me On," which was far more effective than it
had been when she sang it alone during her brief opening set, Wayne was joined onstage by T-Pain.
The tall Tallahassee rapper-turned-singer, who at 23 was the youngest featured performer on the bill, cruised around the
stage on a moped, singing while Lil Wayne rapped "Got Money." The two men, playfully referring to each other as "T-Wayne"
and "Lil Pain," then traded hats and rhymes, offering a glimpse of a work in progress, to be titled "He Raps, He Sangs."
T-Pain's own 45-minute set was one of the most bizarre spectacles ever presented at a hip-hop/R&B show.
Rather than attempt to replicate the Auto-Tune processed vocal wizardry that has marked his own recordings and his many
guest appearances on other people's songs, he sang mostly snippets of his hits and instead brought the theme of his current
CD, "Thr33 Ringz," to life as the ringmaster of 10 circus performers. They included a clown, a stilt-walker, a fire-eater
and two break-dancing little people, one of whom, pint-size Britney Spears impersonator Terra Jole, stripped out of her red
vinyl jumpsuit to bra and panties.
T-Pain curiously got serious in the middle of all the madness, singing a chorus of "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen"
in booming tenor tones.
Cole's rather traditional R&B song-and-dance act seemed almost out of place in such surroundings. Supported by four
instrumentalists and two harmony singers, the glamorous 27-year-old vocalist wore a skimpy black-laced burlesque-like outfit
as she sang in powerful mezzo tones and executed imaginatively choreographed moves with four dancers.
Her nine songs were mostly up-tempo, but it was with the heartbroken ballad "Love" that she really connected with the crowd,
especially the women, many of whom sang along with her every tortured melisma. Opening for Lil Wayne was a better slot for
Cole than the one she had last year in R. Kelly's sparsely attended Oracle Arena concert, but her fans would be better served
if she'd headline her own show at a smaller venue, such as the Paramount.