When we talk about the inception of hip hop, we should start with Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, The Sugarhill Gang, and a host of other crucial players in the development and progression of the genre. Those who heard Rapper’s Delight on the radio and rocked Adidas (Run DMC), are now adults, but thanks to streaming sites, younger audiences are listening to the most influential albums of the genre. It’s easy to find more information thanks to countless editorials, reviews, and message boards.
Not every hip hop fan cares to take advantage of these free resources. Everyone has a different story of how they were initially introduced to the genre. This was highly influenced by where you lived. If you resided in New York, you most likely knew about A Tribe Called Quest. For the west coast natives, you may have heard The Chronic. Maybe DJ Shadow’s landmark debut album Endtroducing.. inspired you to become a DJ or producer. If you are still in your teens, there is a good chance Eminem’s back to back classics The Slim Shady and Marshall Mather’s LP made you feel less alone, or drew you in with his highly controversial lyrics.
If you are around my age, (26) your historical framework probably included the reign of “Mixtape Weezy.” Mixtapes were a popular format even before Wayne put out his first album. It started in the ’70’s, when DJs such as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Herc and the Herculoids, and DJ Hollywood would distribute recordings of their live performances via cassette. Soon CD’s replaced cassettes, and physical copies of tapes were sold on the streets, or in the trunks of cars. The mixtape revolution (arguably) started with Queen’s native DJ Clue, who changed the format from a DJ set into exclusive content such as freestyles over previously recorded instrumentals, outtakes, and records that didn’t make the album. DJ’s hosted them, and were just as important as the artist themselves. They were also used as demo tapes, helping start the careers of rappers such as DMX and The Lox. The format shifted when 50 Cent and The Diplomats came into the picture, right at the start of the millennium. The spotlight was now on the rapper(s) and their rhymes.
Although 50 and The Diplomats started the trend, Weezy F Baby perfected the concept. He was only 11 when he was signed to buzzing southern label Cash Money Records. At age 14 he linked with fellow label mates Juvenile, Young Turk and B.G. to form The Hot Boys. They found success in debut Get It How U Live! and Guerrilla Warfare. Wayne decided to go the solo route, dropping Tha Block Is Hot at 17. He followed it up with Lights Out and 500 Degrees. While not as commercially successful as TBIH, both received favorable reviews. Wayne then went into study mode: working on his craft, and studying the greats. It wasn’t until 2004 when he dropped Tha Carter, his best album yet. Wayne sounded like a different artist; hungrier, more self aware, and able to craft more complex records. Tha Carter II came out just a year later, outdoing his last. Although the lead promotional single, Fireman, could be titled Go DJ Part 2, Hustler Muzik and Shooter, (with Robin Thicke) showed a more contemplative side of Wayne.
Fun fact: The title of his series was based on “The Carter,” which is the empire crack house from the 1991 movie New Jack City, and his last name.
While both albums (and his collaborative project with Birdman) were shooting up the charts, Wayne was beginning his infamous mixtape run. From 2002 to 2003, he dropped a 7 part Squad Up Series, a group consisting of Gudda Gudda, Kidd Kidd, T-Streets, Raw Dizzy, Young Yo, Fee Banks, Supa Blanco, and the man himself. Although popular in their city of New Orleans, the tapes didn’t make much noise. Wayne had a loyal following, but wanted to reach a larger audience. He decided to go the solo route in 2003 with Da Drought. A year later came the second volume, along with The Prefix and The Suffix. Shortly after, his celebrated Dedication series began, linking with high profile DJ Drama and Gangsta Grillz.
Another fun fact: The series was given it’s name because “it is dedicated to everyone around the world and to the fallen soldiers.” This is a direct quote from Wayne off the intro of the first series.
In 2006, I was a 15 year old girl just beginning her love affair with hip hop. I remember the day my brother downloaded LimeWire on our family’s desktop computer. We both lost our minds at the ease of downloading thousands of songs for free. Our favorites were Woah Now (B. Rich), Dey Know (Shawty Low) and Tear It Up (Yung Wun). Soon after, I put the software on my iMac. Then I got addicted. Seriously addicted.
I purchased my first copy of XXL around that time – the one with Lil Wayne and Birdman before the drama. It was an anniversary special, and thick as a book (RIP.) My favorite part of the issue was the “100 Best Lil Wayne mixtape songs” list. I proceeded to download every one. A large portion of the rankings were connected with something called Dedication 2. These included songs like “Cannon (AMG Remix) “Ridin wit the AK” and “Georgia…Bush.” (His legendary Blow project with Juelz Santana was also talked about extensively.) I knew about Wayne through my brother, his friends, and a burned copy of Tha Carter. Go DJ was heard in every room of my house, as my brother played it at high octaves throughout the day. I was only 13 at that time, and didn’t know how I felt about it.
Two years later and I had 100 Lil Wayne songs on my iTunes library. All illegally downloaded. While I enjoyed most of them, the ones that stood out were from the Dedication 2. I knew I had to find it and play it in full. Although Wayne used illegal samples, the project was sold through iTunes and other retail stores. I asked my mom to take me to Best Buy just to see if it was there. It was. I proceeded to burn a copy.
Dedication 2 was the best thing I had ever heard, period. It was 81 minutes of perfection, with absolutely no filler. It was thematic, just like a commercial album. The interludes were my favorite part, as he touched on politics, internal strife, being the “best rapper alive,” and Hurricane Katrina. He also spoke on retirement and how he would never quit, with hopes that when he dies there will be rappers at his funeral. I felt like he was sitting next to me, explaining his life story. I got to know the man behind the music.
Throughout the project he was honest about still being in the streets, chasing money and fucking bitches. He had a killer mentality, asking other rappers to test him. Other choice bars: “every mother fucker at the door don’t get a key” and “I tell my homies don’t kill them, bring them to me.” He was confident as ever, starting an interlude with “I killed that shit, I’m on fire.”
He had a point. His flow was effortless, he had major introspection, and he used metaphors you had to rewind back: “I aim on your moon – and get your howl on”, “when it comes to that paper I stack books.” Although he rapped over pre-recorded beats, Wayne and Drama chose them wisely. For first time listeners, I recommend Cannon, Where Da Cash At, (with Remy Ma and the then unknown Curren$y) Ridin Wit The AK, and Georgia Bush.
The reviews were unanimous. The tape made year-end lists from media giants such as New Yorker, The New York Times and Village Voice (among many others.) Slate.com even wrote about the closing track, Georgia Bush.
Wayne continued to flood the market with quality mixtapes and loosies. He also dropped Tha Carter III, an album that sold 1 million copies in just 1 week, at a time where album sales were declining and leaks run rampant. The single “Lollipop” off TC3 was the first signal of change in his music. After 2009’s No Ceilings, things fell off. Rebirth, I Am Not A Human Being, and the Young Money compilation We Are Young Money, were average at best. After countless push-backs due to Wayne serving a prison sentence at Rikers Island, Tha Carter IIII finally emerged in 2011. While there were good moments, such as 6 Foot 7 Foot, John, and She Will, the best song was the outro, featuring Bun B, Nas, Shyne and Busta Rhymes.
His lowest moment was the release of Dedication 4 in 2012. When officially announced, I had high hopes it would be the rebirth of the former “best rapper alive.” I was sadly disappointed, among many others. The Dedication had become a legendary series among hip hop fans, and expectations were high. He sounded uninspired and bored throughout the insufferable 50 minute play time. I got a sense he didn’t even want to record it, or if he did, didn’t give a fuck about his verses. While he chose great beats to rap over, his lyrics were lazy, and frequently disgusting. Just read a line off “Same Damn Time”
Pickled meat, freaky deak, I test these niggas with a cheat-sheet/Her clit look like a jelly bean, I’m on that promethazine
After this disaster, I completely gave up on Wayne – something I never thought I’d do. I Am Not A Human Being II, Young Money’s Rise to Fame, and more,solidified that his time was over. Still, Day 1 fans have high hopes his music will get better. I do too, but I’m definitely not counting on it.
It’s important to shed light on The Free Weezy album. It’s his best LP since Tha Carter III, and criminally underrated. Although pretty solid, I’ve never come back to it.
He’s also has had some memorable features, most notably on Chance The Rapper’s Grammy Award winning Coloring Book. No Problem was the most popular song off the free project, and I was beyond impressed. Another stand out was on Solange’s critically acclaimed album A Seat at the Table. He took his verses on Mad back to one of my favorite Weezy records, I Feel Like Dying. His contribution to Mad is below:
Yeah, but I, got a lot to be mad about/Got a lot to be a man about/Got a lot to pop a xan about/I used to rock hand-me-downs, and now I rock standing crowds/But it’s hard when you only/Got fans around and no fam around/And if they are, then their hands are out/And they pointing fingers/When I wear this fucking burden on my back like a motherfucking cap and gown/Then I walk up in the bank, pants sagging down/And I laugh at frowns, what they mad about?/Cause here come this motherfucker with this mass account/That didn’t wear cap and gown/Are you mad ’cause the judge ain’t give me more time?/And when I attempted suicide, I didn’t die/I remember how mad I was on that day/Man, you gotta let it go before it get up in the way/Let it go, let it go
While I’m sure more notable features will come, I don’t think Wayne has it in him to deliver another classic. I will always be grateful to him, as he turned my hip hop love affair into a full blown marriage. I still go back to Tha Carter series, Dedication 2, and his debut album, reminiscing on what once was. His music may have changed, but his legacy will remain the same.