The title of Greatest Rapper Alive has been thrown around a lot in recent years, with many MC’s staking claim to the throne. To most hip hop heads, only three rappers should even be in consideration for the crown, once you factor in variables like commercial success, vocal versatility and lyrical skills: Jay-Z, Eminem and the subject of this article, Lil’ Wayne. Lil’ Wayne has enjoyed an extremely successful career in the realm of rap/hip-hop music. From his pre-adolescent beginnings to his chart topping solo career, Lil’ Wayne has made a huge name for himself and his labels, Cash Money Records and Young Money Records.
Lil’ Wayne was born Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. on September 27, 1982. He grew up in the crime riddled urban neighborhood of Hollygrove in New Orleans, LA. In a CBS interview with Katie Couric, Wayne described why he goes by the name of “Wayne” instead of his given name, Dwayne. Carter explained, “I dropped the D because I’m a junior and my father is living and he’s not in my life and he’s never been in my life. So I don’t want to be Dwayne, I’d rather be Wayne”. Couric asked Wayne if his father knew of this and Wayne replied with a smile, “He knows now”.
Lil’ Wayne wrote his first rap song at the young age of eight, and by nine years old he had met Bryan “Birdman” Williams, rapper and owner of Cash Money Records. Wayne began leaving freestyle verses on Birdman’s answering. Birdman liked what he heard and decided to bring Lil’ Wayne into the Cash Money fold, featuring him on numerous label distributions before eventually signing Wayne to a record contract. At age eleven, the young Carter recorded his first collaboration album, entitled True Story, only with fourteen year old rapper B.G. under the billing The B.G.’z. When he was thirteen, Wayne accidentally shot himself with a 9mm handgun and had to be driven to a local hospital by an off duty police officer.
In 1996, at the age of fifteen, Lil’ Wayne joined the rap group Hot Boys, along with Juvenile, B.G. and Young Turk. They released their debut album Get It How U Live! The album failed to gain much commercial or critical recognition, but 1999’s follow up effort and major-label debut, Guerilla Warfare, was a success, reaching number 1 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The group had two hit singles, “We on Fire” from Get It How U Live! and “I Need a Hot Girl” from Guerrilla Warfare. The Hot Boys’ career was short lived however, as the group disbanded in 2001.
In November 1999, Lil’ Wayne released his solo debut album, Tha Block Is Hot, debuting at number 3 on the charts. Tha Block Is Hot earned Lil’ Wayne a Source magazine award nomination for Best New Artist. In 2000, Lil’ Wayne followed up with Lights Out. Lights Out failed to gain the success of its predecessor, though it was certified gold by the RIAA. Lil’ Wayne was criticized for his lack of coherent narrative and was said to not be matured to the level of his former Hot Boys group mates. These criticisms are ironic today, because Lil’ Wayne is considered to be one the best and vivid story tellers in the game today. His third album was 2002’s 500 Degrees. The album followed the format of its predecessors, featuring major contributions from the Hot Boys and in house producer Mannie Fresh. With 500 Degrees, Wayne failed again to match the success of his debut, though it was his third effort to at least reach certified gold status. Their was a bit of controversy over the title, as many saw it as a direct shot to now estranged label mate Juvenile.
In the summer of 2004, Wayne’s album Tha Carter was released, marking what critics considered advancement in his rapping style and lyrical themes. Tha Carter gained Wayne significant recognition, selling 878,000 copies in the United States, while the single “Go DJ” became a Top 5 Hit on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart. After the release of Tha Carter, Lil Wayne was featured in Destiny’s Child’s single “Soldier” with T.I., which peaked at No. 3 on the U.S. Hot 100 and the U.S. R&B Charts. Tha Carter was widely considered an advancement in his lyrical style and content.
Lil’ Wayne released the follow-up, Tha Carter II in December 2005. This marked the first release without production for Mannie Fresh, as he had just left Cash Money Records. Tha Carter II debuted at number 2 on the Billboard charts, selling more than 238,000 copies in its first week. The album was Wayne’s first release since his solo debut to achieve platinum status, selling more than 2 million copies world wide. The album featured such singles as “Fireman”, “Grown Man” and “Hustler Muzik”. Tha Carter II. In 2005, Lil Wayne was named president of Cash Money, and in the same year he founded Young Money Entertainment as an imprint of Cash Money. However, as of late 2007, Lil Wayne reported that he has stepped down from the management of both labels and has handed management of Young Money over to Cortez Bryant. In 2006, Wayne released the collaboration album Like Father, Like Son with Birdman, which the hit single “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy”. This release shed some light in the public in regards the relationship between Wayne and Birdman. Lil’ Wayne considers Birdman to be like a father to him, numerously publicizing his loyalty and gratefulness for the Cash Money CEO.
From that point on, Lil’ Wayne’s career exploded into what we know of it today. He went one to release numerous more studio albums, such as Tha Carter III, Tha Carter IV, I Am Not A Human Being and I Am Not A Human Being II. He has also released some of the most sought after release tapes in recent memory. And Lil’ Wayne has earned recognition as one of the most contracted featured artist in all of hip-hop and R&B; working with such mega-acts such as Jay-Z, Eminem, Chris Brown, Usher, Akon and many more!
With all of this success and attention, it is only natural that jealousy and beef would arise in an artists career, and Lil’ Wayne is no exception. Eminem has even stated on his Recovery album that he considered beefing with Lil’ Wayne due the attention the latter was receiving. He has had feuds with fellow Southern rapper Young Buck, which was a catalyst to Buck’s dismal from G-Unit, Pusha-T and Jay-Z. n early 2011, when Jay-Z & Kanye West’s single “H.A.M.” was released, Jay-Z took shots at Lil Wayne’s mentor Birdman, saying “Really, you got Baby money” and “[you] ain’t go tmy lady’s money!”. On August 24, 2011, a song called “It’s Good” by Lil Wayne (featuring Drake and Jadakiss) was leaked online and included Lil Wayne responding “Talkin’ ‘bout baby money? I gotcha baby money. Kidnap your bitch, get that, How much you love your lady? money”. Lil’ Wayne has also had his share of legal trouble, most notably numerous lawsuits over copyright infringements and arrests related to narcotic and weapons possessions.
Yet through it all, Mr. Carter’s star seems to rise above and shine brighter. He has said that he will retire at the age of 35 and/or after the release of Tha Carter V in order to spend time with his four children. Only time can tell if this planned retirement will hold true, or if he wavers on his decision and comes back like Favre, Jordan or Jay-Z. But until that time comes, whether he is referred to as Mr. Carter, Birdman, Jr., Weezy F Baby or just the Best Rapper Alive, Lil’ Wayne will continue to be a major player in the rap game!