During Jackson State University’s homecoming, Oct. 28 – Nov. 5, 2017, the campus was awash with activities like the street jam, a rave party, the Yard Fest, a fashion show, the football game, among others. But, my absolute favorite event was the homecoming rap concert with Rich Homie Quan, Moneybagg Yo, Cardi B, Yo Gotti and Lil Wayne.
By the time I arrived at the Lee E. Williams Athletics and Assembly Center on Saturday, Nov. 4, two huge lines were leading to the front gates where officers conducted metal detection tests. With my media pass, I was able to skip the line and enter the venue feeling like a president.
I made my way to the very front of the stage to a section reserved for the media. I couldn’t believe there was a spot available for me – a transfer student from a small Florida community college that did not have things like a homecoming. I could actually touch the stage. It was amazing.
‘I guess this is one reason God sent me to JSU,’ I thought, feeling grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity. I started taking pictures with my phone while the MC hyped up the crowd to welcome the first performer.
Rich Homie Quan was up first and some of his songs were unfamiliar to me. I recall that I liked his outfit - a jersey, jean jacket and skinny pants. All the jewelry around his neck beamed like sunrays.
I finally recognized a song when he started singing the hook from his hit with Yo Gotti, “I know.” I love that instrumental because it sounds like “Heaven or Hell” by hip-hop artist Meek Mill. The crowd sang along, and I joined in which made it super fun. Initially, surrounded by media people taking pictures, I didn’t feel as open to enjoy the show freely, but once we all started to sing the vibe changed.
I took so many videos of him that my phone’s battery quickly reduced to 15 percent. When Rich Homie Quan concluded his performance with his single “Type of Way,” it made me vividly recall moments from my senior year at Freedom High School in Tampa. It was nostalgic.
At first, I had no clue who Moneybagg Yo was when he appeared. But then I recognized one of the songs he performed. When he descended from the stage to meet some of the attendee’s, everyone was ecstatic and jumped up and down with enthusiasm. He even took Snapchat videos of himself on other people’s phones. I imagine that he must have fulfilled many of their social media dreams.
Next up came the music phenomenon of the year, rapper Cardi B. Almost all the women in the audience were excited to see her. I was too. She performed less popular songs like “Foreva” and “Lick” with her two dancers gyrating rhythmically to every beat.
In between songs, Cardi B entertained everyone with corny jokes that made us laugh. She then performed her No. 1 Billboard single, “Bodak Yellow,” and it felt like the assembly center shook from the excitement of the crowd and the thumping of the music. After it was over, she jokingly asked the audience ‘Is there a Waffle House around here?’ And the crowd screamed ‘That way’ in almost perfect unison. I was really amused by that moment.
Yo Gotti was up next with his DJ who smashed the set with his eccentric mixing skills. They had good chemistry. The DJ would ask Gotti a question and he would respond. Then the DJ would transition to a song that related to what he and Gotti had just discussed right there on the stage. Brilliant.
Out of all the five artists, I was mainly interested in seeing Lil Wayne because I have been listening to his music since I was in the 5th grade and living in my home country Senegal.
I remember when Fat Joe’s song “Make It Rain” featuring Lil Wayne came out, and everyone in my school would recite the hook as if we knew what he was saying. I later realized the true meaning of making it rain – to throw large amounts of money in the air – when I got well versed in the English urban vernacular.
At that time, we didn’t speak English, but Wayne’s particular flow, style, and personality influenced us. I emulated the New Orleans rapper so much that people began calling me Laye Wayne (Laye comes from my name Abdoulaye).
I even started rapping by imitating his verses on instrumentals like “A Milli.” Even the way I and my friends dressed derived from Lil Wayne. I remember years prior, skinny jeans were looked upon as feminine. But as soon as Lil Wayne made it popular, Senegalese teenagers in the urban centers like Dakar adopted it. At school, if you had skinny jeans and Supras (gym shoe brand worn mostly by skateboarders) you were the man.
So imagine me, a massive fan of his on the front row, right in front of him, watching him perform. It was unbelievable. Even now, I look at my phone and try to recreate the memories and sensations I felt when I saw him and his one-man band (a guy on drums) accompanying him to the tune of DJ T. Lewis.
‘He looks smaller in person,’ I thought to myself as he entered the stage to his song “Hey Mr. Carter.” The audience was electrified, and everyone turned on the flashlights on their phones which lit up the pitch black of the athletic center. It looked like a sea of lights.
Lil Wayne also performed “John,” and I knew all the lyrics, too. He then took us back to ‘99 and performed the hit “Go DJ.” I didn’t really know the words, but other people did. His one-man band was incredible. I followed the rapidity and coordination in which his sticks struck the drums as Wayne spit bars from “Tha Carter III” album. When he performed his single “I’m Me,” it brought back so many memories. This song was on my first desktop computer in Senegal.
Lil Wayne performed so many hits that by the time he was finished, I was drenched in sweat but so energized that I went home that night insatiable. Another thing that I recall about his performance was that Wayne spoke to the audience as if we were his younger siblings. He advocated for us to love ourselves and urged us to look in the mirror and tell ourselves ‘I love you.’
Wayne concluded his show and started to make his way off the stage. I rushed toward the staircase to make sure that I had indeed witnessed Dwayne “Lil Wayne” Michael Carter Jr. And yes, it was: a short guy with dreadlocks, wearing a white t-shirt, black sweat pants, red and white spotted Air Force 1′s with a sea of tattoos covering his body.
I was relieved that what I had seen was real and not a dream. As I made my way outside of the building, I thought: ‘This is the best night of my college life.’