By Simon Vozick-Levinson
Updated August 04, 2020 at 11:09 AM EDT

“This may be one of the only times you’ll see me on a New York stage,” Lil Wayne told the crowd at NYC’s Beacon Theatre last night. It was, the New Orleans-born rapper explained, his first-ever headlining gig in the city — but after what he described as hostile pre-show treatment from the NYPD, he was in no mood to visit the Big Apple again. It wasn’t until this morning that I learned how unfortunately ironic his words had been: Just about an hour after the show ended, Wayne was arrested for alleged gun and marijuana possession. That kind of news is never welcome, but it was particularly upsetting to hear that he’d gotten in trouble with the law after giving one of the most amazing live performances I’ve ever witnessed from any artist.

I’d spent 24 hours tearing through all 784 emotionally wrenching pages of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter finale the day before the show; as a result, I’m pretty sure I was the only dude in the venue wearing a “PROPERTY OF WEASLEYS’ WIZARD WHEEZES” t-shirt. (I figured it probably looked like “Weezy Weezy Weezy” in the dark.) Still, there was more than enough pop-culture crossover to go around that evening. The show was billed, intriguingly, as “Lil Wayne and Friends” — and he’s got plenty of ’em, as he demonstrated by rolling them out one by one over the course of the night. DJ Khaled was on hand to bellow “WE THE BEST!!” and “LISTENNN!!!”, as he is wont to do. Ja Rule came out for a high-octane run-through of his and Wayne’s “Uh Oh.” Dipset don Juelz Santana joined Wayne for a few cocky cuts from their upcoming collaborative album, I Can’t Feel My Face. Wayne’s longtime mentor/father figure, Baby, ran through a couple of hits from his collaborative album with Wayne, last fall’s Like Father, Like Son. And Kanye West drew what might have been the night’s biggest cheers when he turned up to run through a rousing version of his current single “Can’t Tell Me Nothin’.”

It was an impressive parade, but none of those marquee names could compete with the sheer virtuosity of Wayne’s performance. Jumping up and down, dashing across the stage, screaming himself hoarse, he brought the house down with impassioned selections from every phase of his voluminous discography, from 1999’s blinged-out “Tha Block is Hot” to 2005’s scorching “Fireman.” Wayne has pulled off the remarkable feat of making his lyrics noticeably sharper, smarter, and funnier with each successive release in his long career; accordingly, the best songs of the night were often as not the ones that are too new to have made it onto an official album yet. A proud verbal craftsman, he insisted on dialing down the deafening beats and kicking his very latest rhymes at half speed, a cappella, just to make sure we could hear every last one of his painstaking puns and far-flung pop-culture allusions. And when he’d tired of spitting astonishingly clever rap verses, he simply began to sing. In one of the night’s most spellbinding moments, Wayne adopted a full-on Al Green soul croon for another new one: a tender, heartfelt, somewhat crude ballad called “Prostitute.” I’m hoping that last night won’t have been his final appearance in NYC — but if it was, he certainly gave us something to remember him by.