Curfew curtails hip-hop headliner

The Baltimore Sun


A concert review in Monday's Today section did not specify who turned off the microphones at the Lil' Wayne and Juelz Santana show Saturday night at the Clarence H. Du Burns Arena. Samuel T. Daniels Jr., the executive director of the city liquor board, ordered the microphones shut down; it was not promoter Ikon Entertainment.

It had been a long Saturday night for the audience that filled two-thirds of the Clarence H. Du Burns Arena. Hip-hop fans had weathered security pat-downs, a late start, a fashion show and two opening acts before solo sets from the headliners, Juelz Santana and Lil' Wayne.

Finally, the highlight of the evening came: the Harlem-based Santana jogged on stage to join New Orleans' Lil' Wayne, the audience eager to hear material from their joint mix tape and their coming album.

But as soon as Santana was visible, the microphone volume was muted. The performers were ushered off stage. A man whose all-black garb evoked the Grim Reaper spoke to the crowd: "Wear your seat belts," he said, as patrons slowly filed out of the arena.

The show was over.

The abrupt end was a bizarre coda to an event that had made news before it even began. Last week, City Council candidate Donald J. Dewar III had written to Mayor Sheila Dixon and Baltimore's liquor board, stating that Lil' Wayne's criminal record and both performers' lyrics warranted canceling the Canton show and revoking its one-day liquor license.

The request came to naught - except, perhaps, for lighting up hip-hop message boards on the Web - but the show's promoter said that the enormous, visible police presence around the neighborhood was the cause for the sudden ending, close to 2 a.m.

"It's because one of our opening acts was pulled over before the show, which delayed everything," said Tracye Stafford, president of Ikon Entertainment. "We ran into curfew."

Pless Jones Jr., manager of Virginia's Frontline, the evening's opening act, estimated that police had held up the group for about 40 minutes.

"They were on their way to sound check on Boston Street when they were stopped by police and searched," he said. The car and all four people inside were searched for no reason, he said; no tickets or warrants were issued.

Lt. Anthony Brown of the city police said he had been running the detail surrounding the arena and recalled stopping only one vehicle, with a single male inside. But he said state Transportation Authority officials and state police had set up a checkpoint nearby, independent of the concert.

Officer Troy Harris, a city police spokesman, acknowledged that police had blocked off streets to redirect traffic surrounding the venue. Police may have been worried about a repeat of Lil' Wayne's Morgan State University concert from October, where three women were injured after someone on stage threw money into the crowd. In addition, Wayne, born Dwayne Michael Carter, pleaded not guilty to gun possession charges issued last month in New York.

Police presence was strong outside the arena, with officers on horseback, in helicopters and on foot. Fans were split into male and female lines, and security guards patted everyone down; many people were asked to remove their shoes on the way inside the arena.

The crowd was sparse for a show featuring Wayne, the No. 1 rapper in "the game," as MTV hip-hop critics voted in July. The floor of the indoor soccer arena was only two-thirds full when the audience was at its peak. Many fans said they had heard of the show only through word-of-mouth the day of the show or a few days before. The only mainstream promotion people mentioned was Baltimore's 92Q FM radio station.

At 12:38 a.m., 2 1/2 hours after the show's start time, Juelz Santana came out in jeans and his trademark bandana, which rests on his head like a crown. Santana glimmered under the spotlight: His forearm was half-covered by a diamond bracelet, and his sweatshirt looked as if it had lost a fight with a BeDazzler.

Santana, who has several albums to his name, shouted most of his lyrics as the crowd screamed at the sight of him. The horrible acoustics and Santana's lack of voice control robbed the audience of comprehension. But the beats were loud enough, and everyone kept dancing. He jogged around the T-shaped stage, and girls clawed at his jeans whenever he neared the edges. The crowd shouted again when Jim Jones joined his Diplomat compatriot.

Jones helped Santana with his lyrics while smoking what could have been a cigar. Between songs, Santana paused to say, "Hold up. This is Bodymore, Murderland!" to which the crowd screamed in response. Santana finished his set with Jim Jones' hit, "Ballin'."

At 1:24, people sang along with "Where the cash at," as Lil' Wayne ran on stage spitting lyrics as quickly as he appeared. He was clad in a plaid hat and jeans, as well as a white shirt and tan vest that were destined to have the lifespan of a fruit fly.

Wayne's fame shows the changing landscape of hip-hop. While not as prolific with studio albums as many other artists, he has made his name in the world of mix tapes, which circulate largely on the street and on the Internet. His mix tape, "Blow: The I Can't Feel My Face Prequel," with Santana has caused considerable buzz and is being parlayed into a studio release, dubbed simply I Can't Feel My Face, slated for October.

When Wayne started the set, he was visibly excited and rushed through his lyrics. Again, the acoustics did the artist no favors, as many of his lyrics were inaudible. Once he removed his upper-body garments to reveal his tattooed chest, the crowd was delighted, and he hit his stride. Wayne breezed through his flows with the control and poise he exhibits on his mix tapes and albums.

Wayne closed his set with an abbreviated version of his hit with Fat Joe, "I Make It Rain."

The main event lasted under 90 minutes. While there was time early in the night for the two opening acts and a fashion show, the solo and joint appearances of Santana and Wayne were pressed up against the curfew.

Why the earlier performances were not cut in favor of the headliners is beyond me. Lil' Wayne has relentlessly released new music over the past three years. For an artist of his caliber to have only 25 minutes of stage time is inexcusable. From promotion through execution, the show failed to deliver the artists' music to the people of Baltimore.

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