Lil Wayne fans are Lil Wayne fans to the 10th power: The dude has a fanatical following. At his headlining shows, the audience members can recount the story behind every one of his many tattoos, tell you the number of diamonds in his teeth and, of course, recite his most obscure underground lyrics. They fervently cheer for his every move onstage, even when he sips from one of his red plastic cups.
The hip-hop world has been screaming for years that Weezy is the hottest MC in the game (he even earned that title in our first "Hottest MCs in the Game" competition, although he slipped to #3 this year, possibly due to the delayed release of his latest LP, Tha Carter III), and of course, that album was the first since 2005 to sell a million copies in a single week. But still, Wayne is not a household name along the lines of a Jay, Kanye, 50 or Eminem. Now Weezy gets the chance to bring his charismatic showmanship to arguably the biggest stage of his career: the MTV Video Music Awards.
Will a memorable performance at the VMAs help catapult Wayne to true superstardom?
"The energy should be his highest ever, now that he's the #1 dude in the game," said Datwon Thomas, editor in chief of XXL magazine, which dressed Weezy as an astronaut for its current issue. "It would be kinda cool if he came out in the Moonman suit, like he did for our cover!"
King magazine Editor in Chief Jermaine Hall agreed that the VMAs could be a turning point for Weezy. "[It's] a huge stage for him. He's under more pressure because it's the type of show that speaks directly to the consumers that put him over a million," he said. "It's a perfect opportunity to break a third single to his audience, or give the T-Pain song ['Got Money'] some more legs, so I imagine his show will be over the top."
In 2007, Wayne had just a few days' notice to write a verse for his appearance with Nicole Scherzinger at the VMA preshow, and he'll also be teaming up with Kid Rock for a performance during this year's show.
But the big difference this year could be in his stage presence. Wayne has performed so much in the past year, evolving from the spirited rap stallion who ran around the stage with the Hot Boys to the rock-and-roll wizard of swagger we know today.
New York radio host Miss Info has witnessed that transformation. "The learning curve that Weezy is on in terms of his lyricism from then until now was just unreal," she said. "Or maybe we all missed the potential, because he hadn't developed a personality big enough to match it. Now ... Weezy is able to communicate a total package to his fans. There's a voice, a delivery, a style, a look and a larger-than-life, not-of-this-planet personality all working together. It's like a one-man Team Weezy."
Wayne's not afraid to appeal to fans of all genres, mastering the art of crossover. One minute he'll slay hip-hop purists via spontaneous freestyle as metaphors roll off his tongue with precision and fluidity. Then he'll pick up the guitar and play a whole song.
"Wayne has a rock-star element to his stage show," Hall said. "He's probably one of the few MCs who can rock a song a cappella and [have] the audience feel a connection to him. Not comparing him to [Mick] Jagger or any of those dudes, but those rock dudes can tell the band to chill, and rock a solo, and the audience throws a lighter in the air and enjoys it all the same ... old or new song."
Thomas agreed that Weezy gives something extra with each performance: "He isn't just rapping to the crowd; he is performing his song for them. Facial expressions, vocal inflections and the like help him convey his outer-space lyrics to us mere mortals."
Wayne's otherworldly unpredictability will be key during this year's VMAs. Everyone will want to know if he can condense his skills into a mini-set that we'll remember five years from now. Given his diverse arsenal of techniques to kill the crowd, it seems very likely that he can. And let's not forget, there are so many records on Tha Carter III that a national television audience has never seen him perform, he'll have plenty of choices — from the frenetic "Phone Home" to the pensive "Tie My Hands."
No matter what Wayne has planned for the night, some people would like to see him go off script. "There are the iconic [awards show] moments that are meticulously planned and flawlessly executed," Miss Info said, "and then there are the iconic moments that result from genius and chaos (rest in peace, ODB). The best Lil Wayne moment would be a spontaneous rejection of what has been meticulously planned. Weezy is already booked to perform, and his set has already been planned, so that's half of the winning formula right there. Can't wait for showtime."