Rapper Nicki Minaj performs with fellow hip-hop stars Lil Wayne… (Howard Huang, Universal…)
Paula Campbell can't remember the last time there was a bigger hip-hop show in town.
Salt-n-Pepa played 1st Mariner Arena in February, but though they're pioneers in the genre, they're now better-known for their reality TV show.
Wu Tang Clan performed in Baltimore in December, but that was at Sonar, not an arena.
Wiz Khalifa sold out two nights at Rams Head Live in December, but he's still an upstart.
The last time there was this much star power on stage, Campbell said, would have to go back to the start of the decade, when Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Dr. Dre and the recently deceased Nate Dogg played the arena on their Up in Smoke Tour.
The show this Sunday at 1st Mariner is such a blockbuster, its headliners can just be referred to by their surnames: Wayne, Minaj, Ross.
Lil Wayne, who hasn't performed in Baltimore since 2009, would be a draw on his own, but the additions of rappers Nicki Minaj and Rick Ross make it the first major local concert of the year and one of the most anticipated in some time. Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker is also on the bill.
"The combination of all of them makes it irresistible," said Campbell, a Baltimore R&B singer and a regular on radio station 92Q. "People are probably pawning their wedding bands to go to this show."
The four performers are on the road for a 24-city tour spearheaded by Wayne called "I Am Music II;" Baltimore will be its third stop.
"It's definitely the biggest show of the season," said Vernon Kelson, music director at 92Q.
Adding to the anticipation is the fact that this is Wayne's first tour since he was released from prison in November after serving an eight-month sentence for gun possession.
Wayne has experienced a meteoric rise in the past five years. His "Tha Carter III," released in 2008, was certified triple-platinum on the strength of singles "Lollipop" and "A Milli."
His new album, "Tha Carter IV," which is tentatively scheduled to be released in May, is a sequel, at least in title, to that album. The first single, "6 Foot Seven," shows he remains a nimble lyricist — and an irreverent one (it samples Harry Belafonte's "The Banana Boat Song").
Baltimore was already a welcoming market for the rapper, Kelson said.
""We play him all day every day," Kelson said. "It can be up to 12 times a day. He's one of our core artists."
But because the song was the first one recorded after Wayne's most recent stint in prison, there was added hype.
"Folks are trying to see where he's at now that he's out of jail," Kelson said.
Since the tour was announced in late January, the response from the station's listeners has been strong, Kelson said.
Major hip-hop acts don't play arenas in Baltimore often. Drake, the young Canadian rapper, performed at Pier Six Pavilion last March, and Wiz Khalifa will play there in April. But you'd have to reach back to 2009, when Wayne performed by himself on the first "I Am Music" tour and when Jay-Z played at 1st Mariner, for the last time a real star performed here.
Campbell explained that concert promoters are all too happy to take star acts to Washington because they know Baltimore fans will travel there, rather than the other way around.
That's what makes Wayne's concert so sought-after, Kelson said, even when a floor ticket earlier this week was being advertised for nearly $200.
"Honestly, we get calls every day for tickets," he said. The station has given away at least 100 through call-in and text campaigns. The tour will also makle a stop April 3 at Washington's Verizon Center.
The double bill of Minaj and Wayne also provides appeal, because the two put on famously energetic performances.
Minaj's debut album, "Pink Friday" has sold over a million copies, and she has also developed a following for her colorful fashion.
At the Grammys this year, she showed up in a tigress suit that might have (charitably) earned her comparisons to Cuban singer Celia Cruz, but that in reality made her look like Chris Tucker in "The Fifth Element."
"They're not just musicians," said Campbell, who's seen Wayne in concert only once. "They're entertainers. They turn into whatever song they're singing. If Nicki's singing "Monster" [a Kanye West song where she's featured], she's a monster. They're kind of like actors."
For Derek Davis, Minaj and Ross are bonuses. He's not even sure if all the buzz around them is justified.
The real reason he's coming is Wayne.
The 31-year-old service representative from Baltimore was impressed when he saw first saw the rapper live in 2009. "The minute he stepped on stage, he had the crowd at his command," he said.
Unlike Campbell, he won't be getting into the show with a guest pass. He paid $75 for his nosebleed seats.
"I just want to see if after all this time he was locked up," he said. "He still has that same command of the crowd."
If you go
Lil Wayne will perform Sunday at 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are 51.75-$91.75. Call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.