Lil Wayne: The Declaration
It was June 2004 when Lil Wayne declared himself the ‘best rapper alive since the best rapper retired’ on Mannie Fresh produced hit, “Bring it Back”. For many people living above the Mason-Dixon line, a proclamation that bold seemed a bit far-fetched if not entirely out of pocket. But for us southerners, this was a well-deserved title for the then 21-year-old, nine-year rap veteran. A southern rapper claiming to be the best rapper alive was somewhat taboo to the hip-hop community at that time and while the south has become the most commercially successful region in Hip-Hop today it still does not receive the artistic respect that it deserves. To hip hop fans who weren’t in tune with southern hip-hop, Wayne’s declaration was almost comical. ‘No way’ they thought, ‘how could he of all people be the best rapper alive?’ they said. The same kid that was known as the youngest member of the Hot Boyz that was teased for his verse on Back That Azz Up by Hip-Hop “elitists” and “purist” (who never took the time to actually listen to his music). 14 years later we see that Wayne proved them all wrong.
I can understand why people outside of the south thought it was odd for Wayne to claim to be the best rapper alive. It was 2004; music was consumed totally different at this time. We didn’t go to Internet for mixtapes, we went to corner stores, barbershops, CD stores, hood stores even sneaker stores to get them. We didn’t have the luxury of going on social media and finding new artists and mixtapes located anywhere on the globe. Of course there was BET, MTV & VH1 for mainstream Hip Hop but mixtapes were truly underground at this time. Whoever was hot on your block, in your hood, in your city or state was what you were listening to on the mixtape circuit. Prior to the release of Tha Carter, where Wayne made his declaration, he went on a strong 10-mixtape run from 2002-2004. In reality, this was actually his first real mixtape run he released SQ1-7 featuring his post Hot Boyz group, Sqad Up, Drought 1 &2 and The Prefix during this time. Though this run wasn’t nearly has popular as his next mixtape run that would take place later in the decade, It transformed Wayne into the rapper that we all love and adore today.
The work ethic that Wayne possesses and is often celebrated for wasn’t built overnight. Wayne’s work ethic rivals another legend Kobe Bryant; their stories, which seem totally different, actually have a few similarities. Kobe’s career started playing back up to Eddie Jones but Kobe’s burning desire to become the greatest compounded with his unearthly work ethic propelled him to greatness. Wayne’s career started playing back up to BG, his close friend and fellow Hot Boy. On their first album together True Story, under the name Tha BGz, Wayne then known as Baby D was only featured on 3 of the 8 records, while BG was featured on all. At the time BG or Lil Doogie as he was referred to then was the bigger star but like Kobe, Wayne’s unmatched hunger for greatness combined with his unworldly work ethic pushed Wayne’s career to heights few will ever reach. From 2005-2010, Wayne flooded the industry with classic mixtape after mixtape, great albums, unforgettable verses that people still recite word for word to this day at any function. His creativity and wordplay was unmatched in his prime. His legendary run fathered and grandfathered an entire generation of rap. I don’t need to go on and on about his 2005-2010 run, if you aren’t familiar with it you probably aren’t a fan of hip-hop.
I consider Wayne a true creative. Of course some may disagree because Wayne has made millions, or maybe it's his content, his critics don’t like. He did create the term bling bling, that birthed a lot of money hungry rappers only chasing the lavish lifestyle but I don’t believe that was his motivation. Over the years, Wayne has proven to us how passionate he is about music. The blood red tattoo above his right eye that reads ‘I Am Music’ says it all. There is no way possible he can even exist without music. Unfortunately his passion for music, that consumed his life made him turn somewhat of a blind eye to his music business. One thing I wish Wayne would've picked up from his idol Jay Z besides musical inspiration and influence was his great business sense. From the outside looking in Wayne never seemed concerned about his business, leaving it to be handled by others. He was totally consumed by music, which benefited the fans for a very long time until the curtains were drew back and the ugly truth was exposed. Birdman and Slim (Sorry Slim, I love you but you aren’t exempt) don’t have the greatest history of compensating their artists properly but neither did many other executives in the 90s. But did I ever think Wayne would fall victim to the same fate as other Cash Money Millionaires? Never! Because of how loyal he was to Cash Money, he single handedly saved their label not once but TWICE! He brought them 3 platinum selling artists in Drake, Nicki Minaj and Tyga. It’s clear that Wayne truly trusted Baby and Slim, aside from having their names inked into his flesh, he made them the majority owners of Young Money, ultimately giving them the majority of the power and control. Again, I can understand why Wayne allowed this. He had been satisfied with the Cash Money Records business model for much of his life. As long as he had his 12-hour studio sessions booked and his checks cleared, I doubt he could care less about how Cash Money was handling business. I don’t think Baby and Slim purposely did this to Wayne, I think their own mismanagement and shortcomings led to the now resolved family issue. I’m happy Wayne has his freedom, has the ownership of Young Money and reconciled with Baby & Slim. I hope he can find the same passion he has for music for the music business.
Overall it's great to see Wayne comeback strong with Tha Carter V. It’s a long project featuring 23 tracks but for a man who’s been trying to put out his album for 6 years, its well warranted. Wayne is still sharp lyrically with amazing wordplay and off the wall punch lines. I personally love the album and the wait was definitely worth it. The 16 year old Kid from Hollygrove with a soulja rag, Girbaud jeans and reeboks is now a 36 year old rap OG that has proven that he belongs up there with the greats. Enjoy Tha Carter V and thank Lil Wayne for everything he has contributed to this game. He’s an icon, legend and megastar. If you knew what you know now about the man they call Lil Wayne back in 2004, you wouldn’t have been shocked or amused when he made the declaration, that he is the best rapper alive.