BALTIMORE — Fans got more than they bargained for at this weekend’s Virgin Mobile Festival — more Kanye, anyway.
Not content to close out the two-day festival with his headlining Sunday slot, Mr. West stormed the stage earlier in the day, joining Lil Wayne for a meeting of hip-hop’s hottest. Maybe ‘Ye was pulling double duty to outshine the legends (Bob Dylan, Iggy and the Stooges), big rock veterans (Foo Fighters, Stone Temple Pilots, Nine Inch Nails, Offspring), and upstarts (Paramore, Jack Johnson, Duffy) who took the Virgin stage over the weekend at Pimlico Race Course.
Rocking a Louis Vuitton backpack, West joined Weezy on Sunday afternoon to spit his verse from the “Lollipop” remix without skipping a beat. The collabo was the high-energy point of a blistering, better-late-than-never performance. Showing up a half-hour late for an hourlong set would be a cardinal sin for most artists, but Weezy more than made up for it. The crowd chanted his name and even booed briefly while waiting for his set, but it was all love once Lil Wayne hit the stage. Wayne came with a mix of old-school, new-school and a lot of gratitude. “How many of y’all got Tha Carter III ?” he asked. “I f—in’ appreciate you.”
He even took time to honor Static Major, asking for a moment of silence for the late rapper and songwriter before jumping into the song that catapulted Wayne from an underground mixtaper to an undeniable mainstream superstar. After welcoming Kanye up for “Lollipop,” Wayne wrapped his set with even more gratitude and some laughs, lip-syncing to Whitney Houston‘s “I Will Always Love You” before leaving the stage.
While Wayne’s day was done, Kanye was just getting started. He returned to the stage later that night like a hurricane, shrouded in flashing lights and fog. Fans threw up their Roc-A-Fella diamonds early and held them high all night. No irony was lost on ‘Ye, who made it a point to prove his authenticity before jumping into “Diamonds From Sierra Leone.”
“I work real hard at this rapping sh–,” he said. “This is real rap.”
Kanye dove into a set spanning his entire career, from his most recent verse from Young Jeezy‘s “Put On” to his humble beginnings on “All Comes Down,” asking fans to “scream so loud I can’t hear the music” if they knew the song.
And, of course, ‘Ye talked, touching on everything from his mother’s death to Barack Obama’s nomination to crime in the festival’s host city of Baltimore. He freestyled as well, expressing his gratitude for fame and his frustration that comes along with it. The raw emotion was undeniable. “I lost my mama/ I went through so much drama/ I went through so much drama/ I’m for Obama,” he rapped. He then described his journey over to Pimlico Race Course, noting the flashing blue lights above cameras stationed throughout the ‘hood and being content with the fact that even though many Baltimore natives couldn’t afford to attend the concert, they could still see and hear the show from the parking lot outside the gates. He also shouted out MySpace, the Internet and Lil Wayne before beginning “Touch the Sky.”
West took a bit of a jab at the festival’s schedule, specifically the choice concertgoers had to make between his performance and one from Nine Inch Nails happening at the same time at the other end of the park (a dilemma faced by fans at Chicago’s Lollapalooza a week earlier). “It’s not a black-or-white thing, it’s not a rap-or-rock-and-roll thing,” he exclaimed. “It’s a good-music thing. We jam about good things from the heart. How can you pick between me and Trent Reznor?”
But at the end of the day, Kanye’s focus all came back down to his fans. Again freestyling, ‘Ye expressed his eagerness to please those who came out to support him. “I hope you had a good time … f— that, the time of your life!” And with diamonds high in the sky and screams that could be heard around the block, the crowd’s enthusiasm matched Kanye’s (no easy feat).
The day before, it was up to West’s fellow Chi-Town native Lupe Fiasco, who had fans bobbing their heads and singing along to “Superstar” and “Kick, Push.” Despite technical difficulties, Lupe aimed to please, shouting after his microphone problem was resolved, “Let’s hype this bitch back up, all right?” Given the amount of crowd-surfing during his set and the volume of fans chanting his name when he left the stage, he seemed to succeed.
But the weekend wasn’t all about hip-hop. The Foos, the Stooges, Paramore and NIN brought the rock, but the guitar heroes of the day might have been Stone Temple Pilots. Taking the stage later than expected (thanks, Weezy), STP seemed to be the picture of reunification. The band was completely in sync thanks to its current 65-date tour. The focus wasn’t mainly on themselves, though. Scott Weiland shared the love, shouting out those sharing the bill. “What a great day of f—ing music!,” he gushed. “How about Iggy and the Stooges? And Nine Inch Nails are coming up!” He also had love for the crowd. “What a sea of energy,” he exclaimed just before the crowd sang and bobbed along to every note of the band’s breakthrough hit “Plush.”