July 22, 2007 was shaping up to be a memorable night for hip-hop. [artist id="510062"]Lil Wayne[/artist]'s career was on fire: The underground buzz that exploded with the #1 debut of Tha Carter III the following year was on full boil. He was about to take the stage at New York's Beacon Theatre for his first headlining gig in the city that spawned hip-hop. A NYC appearance for Weezy was a rare event, but for those who'd been following the 25-year-old's musical career for years, the Beacon show felt like a coronation.
Wayne was gigantic throughout the South via his guest appearances and mixtapes, but he hadn't yet had the chance to see how much the Big Apple fans loved him up close. A sold-out Beacon roared as Wayne, taking the stage in a vintage Run-DMC T-shirt (which, as is almost always the case during his shows, would soon be removed) electrified the crowd with underground bangers and hits like "Hustler Musik." The crowd knew the night would be unforgettable.
However, it would be unforgettable for reasons nobody anticipated: Wayne was arrested after the show, and that arrest saw him pleading guilty to attempted gun possession earlier this week — a plea that, under New York's tough gun laws, is likely to get him a year-long prison sentence.
Outside the theater before the show, it was like an awards-show red carpet. Rappers Juelz Santana and Jim Jones from the Diplomats stood around waiting to get in, while Ja Rule and Irv Gotti chilled in Maybachs. Kanye West was said to be on his way to the venue, as was DJ Khaled.
The welcoming committee for the rappers, however, was not so glamorous. Police refused to let the Diplomats wait in the backstage area before they performed with Wayne. Mounted police rode up to the rappers and their entourages and almost physically ushered them down the block. Wayne himself had to go through a metal detector and be patted down by police before entering the building for his own headlining show.
Santana and Jim Jones fumed in a parking lot while they waited for wristbands to gain admission. "Somebody tell Jim Jones he's not getting in under any circumstances," one policeman was heard saying.
Jones eventually wound up leaving while Juelz stayed, later taking the stage as a surprise guest. But the excitement of many of the performers who were there to support Weezy was dampened by the actions of the security team at the venue.
"Going into the show, I felt like I was going to prison," DJ Khaled told MTV News this week.
Video footage shows Wayne with a visible look of disgust on his face while getting frisked by police. Cash Money's Birdman also had a rough time entering. Wayne threatened to leave, but didn't want to disappoint his fans. He said during the concert that the Big Apple wouldn't be getting too many more of his shows (although he has performed New York-area gigs twice since then).
"I just went through the worst f----in' feelin ever with y'all police," he said from the stage with a look that mixed disappointment and disgust. "This may be one of the only times you see me because of how they treated me."
Eventually, Wayne's anger would cool down and his energy would be channeled into igniting the stage. Besides hitting the crowd with his own records, Wayne treated them to a surprise guest spot from West, who came out to a deafening roar for "Can't Tell Me Nothing." Other guests, including Santana, Khaled and Ja Rule, were also well received.
"My take? Lil Wayne brought me out on that show," Khaled recalled to MTV News this week. "He let me open and he brought me out on 'We Taking Over.' The show was amazing, the fans were amazing, they went crazy. I went crazy because it was Wayne and Kanye. And Wayne was ripping it down, doing freestyles. I don't think Wayne performed that many times in New York, so that's special, too. I was a fan behind the scenes, seeing the best MC in the world."
The crowd's reaction was ecstatic, and the show would garner acclaim from critics in reviews the next day.
However, shortly after the show, Wayne's tour bus was pulled over just blocks from the theater. Police claim to have smelled marijuana emanating from the bus as it left the venue and arrested him at approximately 11:30 p.m.
The bus was pulled over and when authorities entered and walked to Wayne's room in the back, they claimed to have seen him throw a Louis Vuitton bag with the .40 caliber gun to the floor — a claim Wayne's lawyer would deny.
"He [Wayne] was in the bus in his boxer shorts with a number of other people," his lawyer, Stacey Richman told MTV News. "Unless his boxer shorts had a pocket for this gun, I don't understand how he had it on him."
Just an hour before Wayne's bus was stopped, Ja Rule had his Maybach pulled over for speeding and was arrested as well when police found a .40-caliber handgun in his car during a search. (Rule declined to comment on the incident for this story; Richman is also representing Ja in his case, which is still working its way through the legal system.)
More than two years later, Wayne's arrested would condemn him to a prison sentence (of which he is expected to serve eight to 10 months). On Thursday, Wayne entered a guilty plea to a class "D" violent felony of attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. Arguing all along that the gun did not belong to him — it was legally registered in Mississippi to the rapper's manager, Cortez Bryant — and that it was not in his possession when police boarded the bus, Wayne's plea specified that the gun was within his "dominion or control," which means that it was available to him for use, but was not being brandished in a threatening manner.
This week, performers talked with MTV News about the tough security around the show and how the atmosphere affected them, and Wayne.
"Leaving the Beacon was weird for me," Khaled said. "I felt like [police] was just watching everybody. It didn't feel right. Everybody was backstage, undercovers, I heard Ja Rule got pulled over. And nobody was doing anything wrong. That's why I didn't really understand it. Me, I didn't leave from backstage. I left with the crowd. When I was leaving, I was hearing all this stuff about people getting pulled over. I feel hip-hop is a target for no reason right now."
"I remember that day, a couple of people got arrested, I got pulled over," Santana told MTV News this week. "They followed me uptown. You can't just go and try get n---as for no reason. Say a n---a did have a gun. We're on defense. By the time somebody tries to [do something to me] and [the police] get to me, I'm just explaining the story. That's the position we in. C'mon. The people that's trying to get us are looking out to see when the police aren't there," he said.
Wayne took the stage that night hoping to show fans and fellow MCs in the birthplace of hip-hop how he'd earned the self-anointed title of "the greatest rapper alive." And, onstage, he did. But now facing up to a year in prison, Wayne also proved that fame, money and adulation are no shield from the law, no matter what your skills on the mic.
"I think it speaks of him that he's an individual with a strong constitution that he took that responsibility," Richman said on Thursday after Wayne's plea.