X Games Aspen: Lil Wayne, Louis the Child, Kygo and The Chainsmokers headline sold-out shows
When I want to make clear that I am an old person, I like to mention that I saw Lil Wayne when he was actually little.
It’s true. When I was a freshman in college at Tulane University nearly (gasp) two decades ago, I went to see a massive hometown New Orleans performance by the Cash Money Millionaires. Juvenile, Birdman, BG, Lil Wayne and the crew arrived over the ecstatic New Orleans Arena audience in a helicopter suspended from the ceiling, dumping dollar bills out of money bags onto the crowd by the hundreds.
Weezy was 17, having just released his debut “Tha Block is Hot” and the Hot Boys breakout “Guerilla Warfare.” But as I recall he mostly spent the night rapping behind the Big Tymers and Juvenile, who were the hottest thing in music anywhere at the time and true gods in New Orleans. Lil Wayne, back then, was pretty much the goofy little brother of the crew with one solo hit in “Tha Block is Hot” and his squad tracks from the Hot Boys records, who pulled his weight with genius wordplay in supporting parts.
To have been a teenager in New Orleans at the moment that Cash Money and southern rap took over pop music was indescribably fun. When I get nostalgic, I look back on it the way the Jazz Age writers gush bittersweetly about Paris in the ’20s or how East Coast baby boomers talk about New York’s punk scene during the Ramones’ CBGB era. Cash Money songs like “Bling Bling,” “We On Fire,” “I Need a Hot Girl” and “Back That Azz Up” are forever tattooed on my soul with clouded memories of grain alcohol Kool-Aid concoctions and early-morning Shakespeare classes.
Lil Wayne, of course, was just getting started. He’d leave his Hollygrove neighborhood for Miami and, beginning with “Tha Carter” in 2004, surpass his old Cash Money mates and start making a case for himself as the greatest rapper alive while building a mythology around himself that’s helped make him a titanic figure in American pop culture (the national conversation about his outfit at the college football championship game two weeks ago, if nothing else, proves we all very much care what Lil Wayne is up to).
But the astonishing thing about Lil Wayne in 2019 is that he’s not a nostalgia act. His much-anticipated and sold-out X Games Aspen shows (Friday, Jan. 25, at Buttermilk and Saturday, Jan. 26, at Belly Up) are unlikely to include throwback renditions of those old Cash Money songs that now sound positively ancient. Why would they? Lil Wayne has a new album in the long-thirsted-for “Tha Carter V” that’s full of bangers and runaway hits like “Uproar” and mature entries like “Don’t Cry” that would have been unthinkable during those old days of cheap drum machine effects and braggadocio.
Most of his crowd at Buttermilk probably wasn’t born yet on my long-ago night with the Cash Money crew in New Orleans.
The Chicago-based DJ duo Louis the Child (Saturday at Buttermilk, Sunday at Belly Up) were alive then, but barely out of diapers. And they’re at the other end of the X Games music festival spectrum, showcasing one of our newest pop culture phenomena in this EDM crew whose “Better Not” took over the world in 2018. Their Saturday afternoon Buttermilk show will warm up the stage for the irrepressible hit-makers The Chainsmokers (Friday at Belly Up, Saturday at Buttermilk) who are the first act to make a return appearance on the X Games stage. The second act to become a two-time X Games headliner is Kygo (Thursday, Jan. 24, at Belly Up, Sunday at Buttermilk) whose sunny and laid-back tropical house vibe proved a perfect match for an X Games afternoon in 2016.
All four concerts at the X Games outdoor venue are sold out. The Belly Up nights are sold out as well, except reserved seats for Louis the Child’s Sunday performance ($195, bellyupaspen.com).
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Christina Cappelli described playwright Steven Dietz’s “The Nina Variations” as providing a couple with a reset button, the ability to repeat conversations and say something differently and see where things will end up this time.