Rod Wave is carving his own lane in hip-hop on his ‘Nostalgia’ arena tour with Ari Lennox and Toosii

By Jeremy Grandison

November 16, 2023

On Wednesday night, Rod Wave performed in front of a Spectrum Center crowd that was packed to the brim. Fans arrived early for the concert with immense energy, including an overwhelming number of women filling the seats to see the 25-year-old rapper/singer from St. Petersburg, Florida. 

Rod Wave’s last three albums have reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts, a feat only matched by Taylor Swift. Photo: Carey J. King / CLTure

On his second headlining tour, Wave is celebrating his fifth studio album, Nostalgia. The album marks his third No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200 in three years, a feat only rivaled by Taylor Swift. Wednesday night’s sold-out show marked Wave’s 18th stop on the Nostalgia Tour, treating fans to a powerhouse lineup that also featured Dreamville’s R&B queen Ari Lennox and North Carolina singer/rapper Toosii. 

New York-born, Raleigh, North Carolina-raised rising hip-hop/R&B artist, Toosii, opening for Rod Wave in Charlotte. Photo: Carey J. King / CLTure

Throughout his short career, Toosii, a New York-born, North Carolina-raised budding hip-hop/R&B artist, has connected with his fans through raw and unfiltered personal experiences, rather than delving into status quo rap rhetoric. Toosii began his set with his 2022 single “Love Is…” before addressing the crowd that was already at full capacity around 8:30 p.m. Toosii’s roots in Raleigh and love for North Carolina were apparent, as he continually shouted out the Queen City throughout the night. “Where are the girls who are 5’5” and too fine?” he asked before walking into the crowd to perform “5’5,” a track featuring Latto from his 2021 album, Thank You For Believing. Toosii then instructed production to cut the lights and encouraged fans to wave their phones as a sea of lights shimmered throughout the arena for his Billboard-charting single, “Favorite Song.” In unison, the arena began to sing along with Toosii on the heartfelt track, which has become a customary moment for his sets on tour. Since being inducted into the XXL Freshman Class in 2021, Toosii has steadily grown a large following, leaning more into sentimental songs about love and loss, much like Wave. 

The 32-year-old R&B/soul songstress, Ari Lennox, walked onstage donning a sparkling silver two-piece and opened her set with “BMO,” a hit track off 2019’s Shea Butter Baby. Also with ties to North Carolina, Lennox shared that she used to live around the SouthPark area. Lennox performed mostly songs from Shea Butter Baby, during her stripped-down, seven-song set, which was highlighted by a seductive rendition of “Whipped Cream.” With Lennox’s mesmerizing appearance and performance, the crowd rallied for her final song, “Shea Butter Baby,” although it was apparent the young audience was primarily in attendance for the trap-soul stylings of Rod Wave. 

R&B/soul songstress Ari Lennox performed a stripped-down seven-song set in Charlotte Wednesday night opening for Rod Wave. Photo: Carey J. King / CLTure

At approximately 10:01 p.m., the lights dimmed in the arena as Rod Wave rose up from a platform below the centerstage. The stage, setup with three walkways, was enhanced with rising platforms that Wave utilized throughout the night to give the 15,000-plus in attendance a more intimate feel. Large LED screens were positioned behind Wave, accompanied by massive circular light structures that kept the arena radiantly lit throughout the evening. 

While Wave’s tour was named after his 2023 album, Nostalgia, the rapper took fans through a musical journey starting with his 2019 album, Ghetto Gospel. Pyrotechnics and smoke shot up from the three-pronged stage design, adding a visual flare to otherwise minimal performance. Wave’s soulful and melodic brand of bass-thumping hip-hop music captivated the crowd, making the packed arena feel like a smaller, intimate venue at times. On several occasions, the rapper turned the mic over to the audience, letting his fans serenade him with his own music. Wave performed most songs in chronological order, following up his 2019 hits with “Dark Clouds” from his 2020 album, Pray 4 Love

Photo: Carey J. King / CLTure

Wave continued with “Girl Of My Dreams,” as the centerstage platform elevated him into the air. As Wave descended back to the stage, he addressed the crowd in a set up for his next song, saying “I never wanted to be the center of attention…once I saw the hate, I had to realize I went from Rags To Riches.” The audience again erupted into a frenzy after hearing the first note to “Rags2Riches,” a track featuring ATR Son Son. Wave’s music blends hip-hop with trap-style R&B, allowing him to convey his emotions and real-life struggles in a raw, unadulterated way. The song “Rags2Riches” serves as an example, as he expresses how hard times are an integral step to achieving one’s dreams. Wave shared an intimate moment with fans before transitioning to tracks from Nostalgia, performing an acapella version of “Fight The Feeling.” The warmth and heartfelt emotion were palpable in the arena, as fans sang along to the lyrics: “Now you’re in the middle of the club trying not to cry to a love song.” 

Photo: Carey J. King / CLTure

Wave took a literal leap of faith next, executing his highly publicized stage stunt for “Come See Me.” The rapper disappeared into the darkness and returned after an emotional montage that detailed his short but storied career. Wave addressed the crowd with a serious message saying, “I’m not promoting suicide with my music. I’m telling my story. It’s not funny, I don’t push that. I have to realize life is what you make it.” 

He then transitioned to his track “2018” with Sadie Jean, as she walked out to resounding cheers. The 21-year-old singer, known for her viral TikTok debut single “WYD Now?” headed toward the front stage, rising up on the elevated platform to perform her portion of the song. Wave joined Jean on the adjacent platform as they both sang their hit track to onlooking fans from below. 

To end his 70-plus-minute set, Wave performed two more tracks from Nostalgia, starting with “Crazy,” a flip of Paramore’s hit song “Ain’t It Fun,” followed by the show closer “Great Gatsby.” 

Wave’s performance was nothing short of spectacular, showing fans and supporters how being true to oneself can be inspiring to others. Wave’s humble demeanor and commitment to authenticity have catapulted him into the upper echelon of stars in the music industry. Wave’s seemingly quick rise to fame can be attributed to his refreshing blend of therapeutic hip-hop, trap, and R&B, allowing people of all backgrounds to relate and resonate with his message.

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