"If you got more than $20 in your pocket," hollered Young Jeezy, "raise your hands!" That was the opening salvo. Thousands of fans lifted their arms and screamed wildly on command. The rotund rapper glanced over at each of the two MCs accompanying him on stage and grinned. He spent the next 45 minutes bragging about his ability to move "white" (cocaine) and intimidate foes with his "toaster" (handgun). Whenever the latter was mentioned, several scantily clad women who had pressed themselves against the front-row barricade mimed pistol shots. Nearby, a cadre of girls who didn't look old enough to legally drive a car also grooved to the heavy beats and gangster rhymes.
An ethnically diverse, all-ages crowd of about 12,000 filled Coachman Park in Clearwater on Saturday for a sold-out Wild Splash, the annual party thrown by local hip-hop station Wild 98.7 FM.
Jeezy headlined the all-day, multi-act bonanza. He's a self-proclaimed crack-dealer-turned-rhyme-slinger. His pusherman skills are what supposedly earned him the nickname Snowman. T-shirts bearing the sobriquet cover the torsos of youths nationwide. Many of these fresh-faced children were at Wild Splash when Jeezy took the stage around 9 p.m.
The Atlanta-based rapper performed cuts from his 2005 debut disc Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 and last year's follow-up The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102. The albums placed No. 2 and No. 1, respectively, on the Billboard 200 and have both gone platinum.
Jeezy's rhymes send the kind of message that makes people like Bill Cosby seethe. The sing-along hook to his '05 breakthrough single "Soul Survivor" goes: "If you lookin' for me I'll be on the block/ With my thang cocked possibly sittin' on a drop/ Cuz I'm a rider (Yeah)/ I'm just a Soul Survivor."
Shotgun blasts of songs peppered with shout-outs marked Jeezy's performance. "Hey Tampa, St. Pete, If you love your 'hood like I love my 'hood, put your hands up," Jeezy cajoled. The audience did as was told and a couple of young men near the stage contorted their finger to create gang signs.
Then came another number about living large at all costs. To Jeezy's credit, he did articulate his lyrics rather well in the live context. But cringe-worthy lines like "I'm the realest nigga in the room" and "money, cars, hoes" might have been better off muffled.
The same crowd that applauded the Snowman also showed support for Damian "Junior Gong" Marley and his brother Stephen Marley, acknowledged sons of late reggae king Bob Marley. An ace band that included drums, guitar, bass, keyboards and female singers backed the siblings. Their way-too-brief 30 minute set started with an instrumental version of their dad's classic "Jammin'" that segued into "Get Up, Stand Up," sung by Stephen.
The second oldest of Marley's sons, Stephen (a dead-ringer for dad) played in older brother Ziggy's Melody Makers for years before releasing his solo debut Got Music? in '05. Stephen's new album Mind Control comes out March 20. The more popular Damian, whose last album Welcome to Jamrock cracked the Billboard Top 10, raps instead of sings — but the peace-and-love vibe remains the same. "More tolerance for one another is much needed," Damian, sporting dreads past his ass, said in between songs. The siblings alternated lead vocal duties before closing the set with another nod to their father. While the Marleys performed "Could You Be Loved," about a half-dozen large men congregated behind the stage. They all wore dark sunglasses and matching black ski jackets that read: "Corporate Thugz" across the back. Jeezy's posse was in the house. The star didn't leave his vehicle until the closing Marley tune ended. What did the natural mystic Marley brothers think about sharing the stage with Jeezy? I tried to ask Stephen while he was walking to his tour bus, but one of his handlers pushed me aside mid-sentence.
Earlier in the afternoon, ladies swiveled their hips as Digital Underground performed its rump-shake favorite "The Humpty Dance." At sunset, Tallahassee's T-Pain regaled fans with his romantic ode to that special exotic dancer "I'm N Luv (Wit a Stripper.) In addition to the music, beer and merch stands, there were recruiters present from the Army and National Guard.