On Tuesday, Lil Wayne was released from Cedar-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles County after reportedly having a seizure. The thought of his untimely demise led many to tweet about the rapper, but I, as a long-time Lil Wayne fan, began to recount my memories of him and start thinking about where he belonged amongst the all-time rap greats.
What I came away with was a whole-hearted belief that he belongs somewhere on the Mount Rushmore of rappers alongside Christopher Wallace, Tupac Shakur, Shawn Carter (Jay-Z), and Marshall Mathers. Dispersing lines throughout the piece from his favorite song of mine, “Tha Mobb,” I will explain why.
“Young Money, Cash Money, motherf*** the other side”
Young Tune, Tunechi, Weezy-Don’t-Forget-The-F-Baby, Lil Wayne, whatever nickname you choose to refer to him by, did not come into the game as the best. Instead, Wayne crept into our speakers as a 15-year-old member of the hip-hop collective, The Hot Boyz. If you didn’t hear him then, you definitely heard him when he uttered the timeless phrase, “bling bling.” From there, Lil Wayne’s ascent from a rapper to The Rapper had begun.
“I'm here motherf*****, make room…BOOM.”
In the summer of 2004, Tha Carter was released. Although it was Wayne’s fourth album, it marked his entrance into mainstream consciousness. Laced with singles like Go DJ and certified rap classics like BMJR, how could it not? As a Lil Wayne fan, you could just sense the confidence lifting, all the work he undoubtedly put in starting to pay off. For all of his lyricism on the album, it was his absolute mastery of beats and syntax that made the album so memorable.
“Young Tune, the big kahuna, its my ocean baby, y'all n****s is tuna”
The week of December 6, 2005 could be labeled the best week, at least in terms of musical output, that any rapper has ever had. On that Tuesday, Tha Carter II was released. Beyond receiving critical acclaim, it was a statement. The first track, "Tha Mobb" is, by my estimates, the greatest intro ever. Unrelenting, the album never ceded to give up an inch of creativity, or of his sole-ownership of pole position in rap at that point. Still hungry, he released The Dedication one week later.
“Better now than sooner, Junior, flyin’ round your city, tryna’ take a number 2 on ya”
The Dedication mixtape was a 29-track tour-de-force - absolutely brilliant on all fronts. It was here that Lil Wayne showed off his mastering of the “I'm-gonna-take-your-song-and-make-people-forever-think-it’s-my-own.” "Motivation" was a T.I. song, "Down and Out" was a Cam’Ron song, and before that, I refused to even believe that there was "Knuck If You Buck" before Wayne rapped on it.
It did not stop after The Dedication. In no particular order: Dedication 2, Da Drought 3, Dedication 3, No Ceilings, Tha Carter III. At one point, it was nothing short of spectacular. You truly could not escape the man. And the quality of the work was astounding: "Cannon," "Ride With the Mac," "Sky Is The Limit" (there are people who still don’t know that was a Mike Jones song), "D*ck Pleaser," "Single" (!), and "A Milli," to name far-too-few. And then there are songs whose origin even I don’t know, like "Demolition" with Gudda Gudda.
“I'm hungry like I didn’t eat; I want it like I didn’t see a meal before seventeen. What the f**** you n****s telling me? You pups can’t keep up with the pedigree…”
By the time everybody could catch their breath, the rap business model had been changed. Lil Wayne, and his non-stop barrage of newly-released music forced the modern rap artist to recalibrate. Music was no longer to be held forever and unreleased; there was now a venue for non-stop music consumption that the artist had to take advantage of. If you wanted to be great, you had to feed the beast.
I’m not saying Lil Wayne invented the mixtape, I’m merely saying that there is no way he did not re-invent it.
This Lil Wayne — the game-changing genius — is the one that will be remembered. Not the Lil Wayne that is currently wearing one too many bright colors and rocking a skateboard. Remembering any other version of the man would be a disservice to rap music and ears everywhere.
“I aint goin’ nowhere special, I won’t never leave/Sh*t, I’m already a legend if I ever leave.”
We hope not, Wayne. But if you ever do, you for damn sure are.