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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Nicki Minaj's dual identities please colorful fans at New Orleans show

Posted By on Sat, Jul 28, 2012 at 1:36 PM

Fan Lance Brown stole the show with his outfit.
  • Fan Lance Brown stole the show with his outfit.
With an identity as schizophrenic as Nicki Minaj’s, who has achieved success as both a formidable spitter and as a plasticy pop princess (the former critical success, the latter commerical), one might wonder what side would dominate in the rapper’s first headlining tour. Would costume changes and pre-recorded vocal tracks overshadow her dexterous rapping? While those arena pop show fixtures figured largely in her performance, Minaj mostly handled her dual identities with aplomb, engaging both rap fans and squealing tweens. There was also a surprise appearance by a Cash Money legend (not Lil Wayne).

First, a note on the fans: they were mostly female, mostly young and mostly dressed in some combination of candy-colored wigs, neon printed leggings and uncomfortable looking (but eye-catching) shoes. The fan who stole the show (we even got a tip from the ticket person outside to look out for him) was someone named Lance Brown (pictured above), who at all times had a crowd of girls around him wielding iPhones. He also served as unofficial opening entertainment before the actual opener, rapper 2 Chainz, by dancing in the isles.

When Minaj first appeared, she and her pack of athletic dancers were wearing hoods while the thudding opening bars of “Roman’s Revenge” played. I thought we were about to see a reprisal of her bonkers Lady Gaga-meets-The Da Vinci Code Grammy’s performance, but Minaj quickly shed her robe to reveal a bubblegum, Katy Perry-esque ensemble complete with a tutu and a matching giant grin. Her affable stage presence was immediately apparent, and for the rest of the performance, she seemed genuinely happy and excited to be there. She launched into a montage that included included Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded stand-out “Beez in the Trap,” on which 2 Chainz joined her to rap his verse*. The mostly-female crowd was receiving this similar to how tweens receive Justin Bieber, with deafening screams.

The show started to veer more into her pop catalogue with “Right By My Side” and “Moment For Life,” and it seemed like she was lip syncing or at least letting the vocal tracks take over at some parts. She disappeared for a bit (the show was punctuated by costumes changes characterized by awkward lulls and dancers chucking T-shirts into the crowd) and returned in a corset wedding gown reminiscent of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” era. She sang her annoying club jam “Starships” and, flanked by a pack of shirtless dudes in silver pants, it reminded me of the Miami season of Jersey Shore.

Costume number three featured her in a wig resembling freshly spun cotton candy and a matching gown. She said the next part was for the women in the audience who have had their heart broken by “someone with a nutsack.” She asked the the crowd to “make some noise if you’ve contemplated killing him.” There was a lot of noise. She launched into some slower, more vulnerable tracks and I thought at this point, the show had completely given way to her pop side.

But the momentum picked back up when she reappeared after another costume change — this time into a relatively casual outfit and normal human-colored hair — and started spouting lines from her verse on a track from Lil Wayne’s 2007 mixtape Da Drought 3. That track, during which she rhymes “behind me” with “Hermione” (as in the Harry Potter character), was the first time I and many others heard the Queens rapper. This began a bloc dedicated to mixtape tracks and other early cuts, and she seemed impressed by how her New Orleans audience knew all the words. Then she transitioned into the exasperated Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded cut “Come on a Cone” and then her verses on some Drake tracks and Trey Songz’s “Bottoms Up” (which includes one of her more difficult, fast-and-furious raps).

She then said “I’m not fucking around … (New Orleans) just annihilated every place I’ve gone to on this tour” and thanked New Orleans for its support of Cash Money and Young Money. And then, as the Big Tymers’ “Still Fly” played, Cash Money co-founder Birdman walked out on stage, joining Minaj for a few songs and then presenting her with a plaque commemorating her latest album's platinum status.

She launched into her hit “Super Bass” and then, with a burst of confetti cannons and a waft of nacho cheese smell, the show was abruptly over. Minaj vacillating between her alter-egos created some lulls and awkward moments, but she still managed to prove that she’s a frighteningly good rapper. And the neon spandex and stilleto-wearing women that came in droves to see her seemed to like her either way.

* The opening line of the 2 Chainz verse on "Beez in the Trap" is "Nicki Nicki Nicki / put it in your kidney." Does anyone have any insight on what this means? Is it a rich metaphor, dumb penis joke or easy rhyme? Feel free to speculate in the comments.

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