Give 'Em Their Flowers: Lil Wayne Is The Blueprint For Every Rap Superstar
A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across the Tha Carter documentary on YouTube. The documentary, which was heavily disputed by Lil Wayne and his team after its release, gives a candid look into the hectic, drug-addled life of the biggest rapper alive surrounding the release of Tha Carter III over a six month period between 2007 and 2008. It’s a humanizing portrait of an artist who was still considered sort of an enigma despite his massive, world-renowned status. There are a few controversial aspects included, for sure, so it’s understandable why Wayne ultimately disapproved of this portrayal of him. Outside of the problematic elements though, two things that the doc does a good job of highlighting are Wayne’s relentless work ethic and just how larger-than-life he was in his prime: the man who could unapologetically proclaim himself the “best rapper alive” with no objection.
One moment that stood out to me, in particular, was when Cortez Bryant, his manager at the time, excitedly came to him and broke the news that Tha Carter III had sold over a million copies in its first week. This was extremely rare at the time seeing that no album since 2005 had accomplished that feat. Many artists would naturally see this as a cause for celebration but Wayne, who was on his tour bus recording a song when he found out, remained nonchalant and casually stated that he was aiming for five million next time before going back to work. To me, this one moment exemplified Lil Wayne’s entire career -- a swaggering superstar who was never satisfied even when he was on top of the world.
I was too young to fully grasp the extent of Lil Wayne’s popularity during his peak. I hadn’t even reached middle school when Tha Carter III came out. My older cousin was the first one to really put me on to him; he would always blast deep cuts from either one of the Dedications or Droughts whenever I came over to visit. The vulgarity and unhinged confidence of what I was hearing piqued my interest as a kid -- even though I couldn’t relate to anything Wayne was saying at all, I knew it sounded cool as hell. As I got older and became more aware, I vaguely remember hearing the hypnotic “Lollipop” on the radio nonstop and seeing the iconic video for “A Milli” on MTV over and over again. It still wasn’t a cultural moment I was fully present for, though. Now that I have the chance to look back, I’m able to truly understand how big of a superstar Wayne was and the impact he had on an entire generation of artists.
Pretty much everyone knows Wayne’s story, but just for clarification here’s a brief summary for those who are uninformed. Born Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. in 1982, the New Orleans native was thrust into rapping before he could even hit puberty by his father-figure and Cash Money label head Birdman, a.k.a. Baby. Birdman discovered Wayne’s natural talent as a rapper and made the studio his second home in order to deter him from the streets. Wayne started off as an underdog member of The Hot Boys, a local New Orleans rap group, before venturing off into a solo career in 1999 with his debut Tha Block Is Hot. In a career that has spanned over two decades, Lil Wayne has seen success beyond measure while enduring many pitfalls including ongoing contractual struggles, constant legal trouble, and substance abuse. In spite of these hindrances, Wayne has proven to be one of the most memorable rappers of all time and he serves as a major influence for a generation.
"I learned from that dude. A lot of n-ggas need to learn from that n-gga, ma,n. No lie, when we went to the studio at like 2 in the morning, and no lie, this n-gga was in the studio until 2 the next day." - Jay Rock on Lil Wayne's work ethic
Lil Wayne was one of the very first rap superstars to be as consistent and prolific as he was in his prime. During his awe-inspiring run from 2004 to 2010, he released an unprecedented six albums and seven mixtapes, numbers that were unheard of for someone of his caliber at the time. He simultaneously became one of the most commercially successful hip-hop artists of all time with countless chart-topping hits and one of the most acclaimed underground mixtape rappers known for strong-arming the songs of contemporaries and making them his own. Wayne’s lengthy string of projects around this time arguably reshaped the way many popular rappers release their music today, setting the standard for the insane musical output that is now common.
Wayne didn’t just have an impact on the way in which rappers presented their music to the masses. In addition to that, he directly influenced the musical style and rockstar aesthetic of countless artists, most notably some of the biggest names in rap right now. Everyone from newcomers to established veterans like Young Thug and Kendrick Lamar (one of his earliest mixtapes C4 was a full homage to him) has cited Wayne as an influence, and I’m willing to bet that every rapper in the game right now can attribute their success to Wayne’s formula in one way or another. Not to mention he is directly responsible for starting the careers of some of the most notable names in rap, including Drake, his most accomplished successor. Without Wayne, many of our favorite artists would either not exist or be an unrecognizable version of who they are today.
Rap would be in a drastically different place right now if it wasn’t for Lil Wayne. He broke barriers and rewrote rules that eventually served as guidelines for every rapper who came after him. At this point, he has transcended the label of just being a rapper and has become an undisputed cultural icon whose presence will be felt for decades to come. As he approaches the latter half of his career, let’s appreciate everything he’s given us over the past two decades and cherish everything he still has to offer. While Wayne has slowed down considerably from the years of his reign at the top and somewhat retreated from the spotlight, remember those two words he told us we’ll never hear on “Mr. Carter.”