Featured, Music

How Lil Wayne Became Hip-Hop’s Most Underappreciated Legend

17 years ago, Juvenile released “Back That Azz Up.” (“Back That Thang Up” if you were a baby trying to make babies on the dance floor of a high school gymnasium.) The descending chords in the intro cause an immediate pavlovian response. Men crane their necks like a gazelle hearing a rustle in the tall grass and women ready their stances for possibly the lone pity twerk they’re willing to give up for the evening. But, what makes this song so awesome is that it not only became the urtext for all future twerk songs, it also introduced the world to Lil’ Wayne.

Sadly, Dwayne Michael Carter is fast on his way to becoming unrecognized at the ripe old age of 33. Since his prison bid in 2010, Wayne has suffered a steady decline which has included Empire-levels of absurd drama. Wayne has dodged a tour bus shooting, survived airplane seizures, and has been embroiled in a much publicized contract dispute with “his daddy” “Birdman” Baby Williams. 

The dispute with Baby has limited Wayne’s ability to release proper albums, but his spiral into irrelevance is nonetheless disheartening.

If you’re not aware, or are simply praise stingy, Lil’ Wayne is a hip hop legend. He’s been around for nearly 20 years, made a successful turn from teeny bopper to adult rapper, has one or possibly two classic albums depending on who you ask, and he’s directly responsible for the careers of both Drake and Nicki Minaj. He’s the Michael Jackson of hip hop. Hyperbole aside, Wayne was plucked from Hollygrove as a preteen, worked on music as part of a group under the the tutelage of a “daddy” with animal like features (Joe Jackson = angry cat, Birdman = self-explanatory), and subsequently sought out juvenile activity as an adult to fill a gaping hole inside due to a missed childhood.

While Wayne’s irreverent squealing can’t compare to beauty of Michael’s voice sonically, this man and his art should be more prominent in the hip hop zeitgeist. Drake, Kendrick, J.Cole, Future, Kanye are the names most bandied about when discussing the current A tier of prominent rappers. The first four names in that list are part of a different generation than Wayne, but Kanye, his contemporary, provides a more apt comparison when discussing influence on the hip hop world.

Objectively, Kanye West has not put out a hot album since 2011. (Editor’s note: I disagree. But you knew that already.I had to take a moment to self flagellate with my headphone cable for even allowing that truth to be written, but it’s true. Since Watch The Throne, there’s been a series of great one off songs peppered between half finished concepts, dated unreleased tracks, and “fuck it” bars. Yeezus and The Life of Pablo could be condensed into a ten track album while “Send it Up,” “Freestyle 4,” and the remaining basura tracks could be repurposed into GarageBand apple loops for underprivileged struggle producers. Even though the work as been spotty of late, Kanye has built up enough cache that being a Kanye apologist is almost a political statement. We’ve got to create space for our greats to stumble into mediocrity just like White artists do. Well, I’m here to cape for Lil’ Wayne because he is just as important in the transition from Jay-Z to Drake as Kanye West despite not fitting a middle class ideal.

In addition to being in the feature artist hall of fame with Ludacris and Busta Rhymes, Wayne’s biggest contribution to the current crop of millennial rappers is wordplay. Wayne popularized free association relentless puns in a way that made you listen to the structure of the bars themselves more than the subject matter. This coupled with his warbling kinetic flow gave his songs energy and quotables that are tough to match. They also gave his songs close listen replay ability. Because of Wayne, good lyricists are more prone to include clever eye brow raising nuggets than simply beating you over the head with like a charter school vocabulary test. J Cole, Big Sean, and his protégé Drake all use this style but through the melancholy uber ride home lens of 2016.

Despite being rich for most of his life now, Wayne still represents a southern gangster underclass that doesn’t mesh with modern hip hop. He can’t gain the cultural clout of a middle class artsy Chicagoan or even a New York gangster turned art collecting businessman. Considering that this man was raised without his real father, lost his father figure to violence, shot himself in the chest at 12, dropped out of high school at 14, and has only ever rapped for a living for 20 years, I’m more than impressed with the artistic risks he’s taken.

Rebirth? Trash. But attempting to learn the guitar? Worthy of respect.

Skateboarding? I too picked Kareem Campbell in the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, but the second I fell? I quit.

Collaborations? “Motivation” should win the Rap/Sung Grammy into perpetuity.

Fashion? Okay, maybe this is unredeemable.

Zebra jeggings aside, these are all risks that with the proper support probably could’ve been much more successful. Kanye has parallel steps in his career that have been lauded critically and I can’t help but wonder if Wayne went to high school, or was from the north, or just had a mentor other than a man with a star tattoo on his head, he would’ve had the wherewithal and network to bring these ideas to fruition. (I’m still holding out for a Lil’ Wayne x Kelly Rowland slow jams album.)

This year, Wayne only scored an adjunct Grammy nomination for “Truffle Butter,” but he did manage to keep his profile up by appearing in a Super Bowl commercial cradling some of his famous apple pie.

This special relationship with pie is one of his most important contributions to the culture.

I remember being an oversized timb wearing youth and hearing DMX say, “Make you want to eat bitches, but not me, y’all niggas can eat off the plate, but not D.” Between that and every island artist exclaiming what “me don’t do,” I was under the impression that diving into a woman’s nethers was not the move. Recently, Kanye has allegedly pushed the boundaries of sexuality hip hop, but, Wayne did it first.

In the past 15 years, Lil Wayne has flooded the world with a tsunami of oral sex references ranging from the confounding: “I eat that cat, just like a lion” in “Rich as Fuck” to the uncompromisingly bold, in “No Worries.”

“She said sorry I didn’t shave so that pussy is a little furry. I put that pussy in my face, I ain’t got no worries.” This man has singlehandedly created a world in which no woman shall ever grow up and have to convince her suitor that oral play is okay. If Lil’ Wayne doesn’t worry if it’s furry why should you?

Wayne clearly has his flaws. The drugs, the baby mamas, the increasingly lazy metaphors, but he’s done enough. He’s had his best rapper alive days and platinum albums. He’s an OG and he should be respected as such. With all of the drama in his life, songs with vulnerable verses that allowed us into his psyche would make his late career music much more endearing. An upcoming album with 2 Chainz makes me think that won’t be the case, but, it would be short sighted to count out Wayne. He came from the mud.

Brandon Harrison

Brandon lives in LA and has Hollywood stories that rival those of Rick James. He prides himself on staying righteous and knowing more about basketball than you.

  • Lil’ Wayne = Diddy who can rap + black hipster

    • Brandon Allen

      Naw, not at all.

      • charleswilson910

        Indeed.

      • Lol, I thought that was a compliment.

        • Brooklyn_Bruin

          Always think of dude from gym class heroes when people say hipster. Him and Cudi

          • Brass Tacks

            Yep

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            Hmm..Travis..yup definitely.

        • Brandon Allen

          Lol It might be just doesn’t seem accurate.

        • Brass Tacks

          Naw Libre. I appreciate the attempt, but nah lol.

    • charleswilson910

      Not in the slightest.

    • Julian Green

      That’s not Wayne. You just described Theophilus London.

  • I agree that he’s a legend, but he’s FAR from under-appreciated. He’s just no longer in his heyday. Wayne is his prime was given praise from nearly every sector of hip hop. It’s just that when you age in hip hop you fall out of grace regardless of how important or influential you are. Jay Z is the only old artist in hip hop who can drop a record and it still mean something.

    • Brass Tacks

      Ok. I’ma go ahead and say it. I think Jay is done as far as classic or even listenable albums are concerned.

      Watch The Throne is underrated. This perplexes me because Jay dumbs out on damb near every record. So Appalled, Welcome to the Jungle, Otis, NIP, Murder to Excellence… He’s in pocket with the concept and sounded hungrier than he has in a while.

      No one can stay the same, I get that, but I cant get Jiggy with Jay rhyming about stuff I can’t readily afford or relate to.

      • Brandon Allen

        MCHG should’ve been an ep at best. It wasn’t good.

        • Brass Tacks

          Yea. I don’t know what I was hoodwinked into listening to, but it wasn’t any Jay I was the least bit familiar with.

        • Tom Ford, F*ckwitmeyouknowigotit, somewhereinamerica, oceans, crown, and heaven are all good tracks.

          • Brass Tacks

            Now you are just trolling, Ricky.

            • I was literally listening to it just yesterday. It’s a half decent album. It’s just that the bad tracks are Blueprint 2 awful.

          • Brandon Allen

            oceans and heaven are okay at best. Either way 7 songs sounds like a nice EP to me.

          • DBoySlim

            Really though? Tom Ford didn’t even make sense.

      • But Jay is relevant to hip hop now OUTSIDE of just the album element. He;s in the place now where he can do things like start a music streaming service, or do a concert full of b-sides and take shots at the same corporations pimping music in the 2000s. He knows what time it is. He ain’t kicking it wit the rappers now, he’s trying to kick it with the moguls.

        • Brass Tacks

          Im cool with it. There’s a place for Smithsonian flow Jigga. And that just may be tailor made for the Fortune 500 block. But I know a Jigga verse when he’s “on”, and MCHG came across as more promo for other ventures/ interest, than actual content.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        I’m comfortable with the notion that every few years or so, he will be inspired by something and drop another American Gangster.

        But I’m not holding my breath because I no longer need him to be the musical benchmark he was during most of my younger years, and I believe that’s how he’s been looking at himself for quite sometime now. He now longer needs to be the trendsetter. Plus, being 46 really aint gonna help that notion anyway.

      • Epsilonicus

        I think Kanye pulls the best out of Jay nowadays.

    • YeaSoh

      I disagree… Wayne is only 33, a lot of artists are STARTING their careers at that age. First off, and I feel like you as a music head should know better, true artists don’t have heydays because as they age and grow so does their music as it should. Examples: Tina Turner, Beyonce, Michael Jackson, Prince, etc… these are people who have been in music all of their lives which makes them very different from any other artist/musician/singer/hiphopartist… they can release music, take a break and come back like they never left. He has proven to be a part of that class of people… 20 years in any game ain’t no bs

      • This is rap. You only got so much time.

        • Brass Tacks

          So when you in it, try to get as much ish as you can/
          And when ya run is over just admit when its at its end/

          -Eminem

        • YeaSoh

          Music is music

          • Rap is no country for old men. – Phonte

            • YeaSoh

              Umm find the nearest bridge because 33 is not old even for rap standards

    • CamCamtheGreat

      Falling out of grace isn’t so much about age; it’s because of hip hop’s general tendency to adjust its sound every decade or so and rappers’ (read: peoples’) general inability to switch their styles up enough to stay relevant. For instance, Lil Wayne ushered in the era of free word association punch lines, but now that hip hop has largely moved away from that, his style is seen as played out…even though he’s the one that played it out.

      • This is a really good point that didn’t come to mind. I remember at a certain point after Wayne’s peak it pretty much became a running joke of what Lil Wayne punchline would sound like. He became a parody for a lot of people who were once ardent fans.

  • KMN

    what really kills me about Lil Wayne is how older women cape for him…like Katie Couric…and my momma…I just don’t understand…but meh I guess I wasn’t meant to understand lol

    • cakes_and_pies

      Because he looks like the neighborhood latch key and just needs a sandwich and a hug. I won’t even go around him without ear plugs in. His old Piped Piper a s s knocks women up with words.

      • KMN

        OMG I wish my cubicle had a sturdy wall to slide down ROFLOLMAO…this description is spot effing on lolol

      • Quirlygirly

        His old Piped Piper a s s knocks women up with words

        A hello will have you 3 months preggers! LOL

      • Kemse

        I hollered.

        I’m truly baffled and disturbed by the women he’s been able to bed and knock up. Like what is he saying to these women? I wanna know and I don’t.

        • cakes_and_pies

          And you never hear about any Baby Momma Drama. They all seem to co-exist like the Black version of Sisterwives. WEIRD.

    • miss t-lee

      It’s that NOLA accent. I’m convinced.

      • KMN

        GOTTA be that accent…there’s nothing like it…it’s sexy…but not that sexy lmao.

        • miss t-lee

          Stop lying to yourself.

          • KMN

            ROFL…trust…he’s too short for me…I’m a solid 5’9 I can’t with him…nah. and he got TOO many babies…and them gold teeth girl…no. now we can kick it and share a pound but that’s about it…he’d get curved so quick…like nah son…naaaaaaaaah lmao and I’m too old for him

            • miss t-lee

              I’m not meaning Wayne per se’. I’ve seen Wayne in person, he’s even smaller than he looks in photos, or on television.
              But that NOLA accent has gotten me a time or two.

              • KMN

                ok the accent yes…then we MIGHT get along…but I gotta have the height though…I can’t with lil men…I’m sorry lolol…I like a tree I can climb…I don’t like being that tree :)

                • miss t-lee

                  As a tall lady…I know girl.
                  I KNOW.

                  • KMN

                    My fellow sistren in height lolol

                    • miss t-lee

                      AYE!

  • Brooklyn_Bruin

    Weezy doubters need to listen to his mixtapes with headphones. Everything from the SQAD Up days to now. In my opinion his albums don’t really showcase his skills.

    On one mixtape, somebody asks him why he does them, and he was like “I do it for me”. He does a lot of work out for self satisfaction.

    His version of Hotline Bling has all sorts of poignant lines. His imagination is whoa. The references and extended metaphor game is some of the best in the business. He’s so far ahead of cats it’s hard to fathom. Most of his fans aren’t really up on his depth because they only listen to Migos and the like.

    Took y’all forever to recognize Andre, don’t do Wayne that way.

    Hear me now, believe me later on

    • charleswilson910

      That could arguably be the case for any note worthy lyricist…but particularly for Wayne…his mixtapes surpassed in every sense of the word any albums hes ever put out.

      • Brooklyn_Bruin

        The rhyme be did over Dear Summer, or the one over Georgia..dedication 1 &2?

        I feel like Dying…

        It’s hard for me to think of any “popular with regular people” mc with that kind of range.

      • DBoySlim

        And that is the problem. I wish artists would put their best material on the albums. In the words of T.I. and Jamie Foxx: fcuk a mixtape.

  • Weezy is a legend but only if you are below the Mason-Dixon line. He always had joints but like a lot of rappers, he usually doesn’t make a solid album. With down south album filler is bad, it is REALLY bad and I think that is why Wayne isn’t recognized, He’s just laid too many eggs.

  • I still remember when Dedication 2 came out. Literally everybody loved that tape which is rare. And I’m from the north.

  • Amen

    Well said. I’m about to go listen to the Carter. Anybody who doubts Wayne’s lyricism can go listen to BM J.R.

    • Tyrell Holmes

      agreed…BM Jr. is my all time fav Wayne track…but that goes to show how cold you are when you actually write your raps and not just go in the studio and freestyle

  • Medium Meech

    Listen. Actually Read. I mean one is visual symbolic representation of the other so six one way… A popular opinion is that Wayne fell off. Sorry for the wait 2. Download it. Still one of the hottest in the game.

  • heyheyno

    I agree! Lil Wayne was always good lyrically to me.

  • Brass Tacks

    Wayne has reached GOAT status to argue otherwise is futile. His mixtape run alone was the stuff of legend.

    This may come across as a little morbid, but I base my opinion on favorite rappers off the train of thought that if they were to die today; how quickly would I rush to play their classics? Wayne from Dedication to Drought 3 was simply untouchable.

More Like This