Lil Wayne in 2017

Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., known commonly by his stage names Lil Wayne, Tunechi, and Weezy, began his rap career at the age of 8. Today, at the age of 34, he is on the brink of what may be his final album, Tha Carter V. He’s released twelve studio albums, twenty three mixtapes, and many more singles and partnered projects, amounting to over 1500 songs. He’s been nominated for over 150 awards and won over 50, including Lyricist of the Year in 2008, Best Male Hip Hop Artist in 2009 and Best Rap Artist in 2012. Even if you don’t like all of his work, Lil Wayne clearly deserves our utmost respect – but who is the man behind the music?

Lil Wayne was born in Hollygrove, New Orleans, Louisiana on September 27th (be sure to celebrate his half birthday in March!) He started writing raps when he was very young; he was noticed by Cash Money Records right before turning nine, and then recorded his first collaboration album when he was eleven. The following year, as the tale goes, Wayne accidentally shot himself with a gun he found in his living room. He would’ve died, had it not been for Officer Hoobler, who was off duty but still answered the 911 call. Years later, Wayne explained, “This man saved my life. I’ll never forget him.”

By the age of twelve, Lil Wayne had experienced much of life. He saw his parents get divorced and his biological father neglect him; he nurtured a love for his step father and Southern style rap music; he became an honors student at a local magnet school and created original tracks with other young artists in the hip hop industry. Living in Hollygrove, a young neighborhood known for its origins as a swamp land, Lil Wayne could play at the Conrad or Cuccia-Byrnes playgrounds, go to the Larry Gilbert baseball stadium, or hang out with friends and family watching football after school or, after dropping out at the age of fourteen, when he wasn’t busy rapping. Statistics indicate that violent crimes in Hollygrove occur much more often than average; specifically, there is about a 1 in 17 chance that someone will be a crime victim. Growing up, Lil Wayne surely appreciated the good in his life while simultaneously experiencing harm and fighting for every one of his successes.

Today, Lil Wayne fans await Tha Carter V, which has been recorded but not released. Wayne has stated that this will be his final solo album, explaining that he has worked very hard on it and does not see himself committing so much time and energy to an album again. He’s also explained that he wants to be a more present father figure for his daughter and his three sons. Tha Carter V is meant to mark Lil Wayne’s retirement, but has been delayed because of issues with Birdman, Cash Money Records’ label boss and a man who Lil Wayne has considered a father figure. Lil Wayne has also filed a law suit against Cash Money Records for $51 million, and since released the mixtapes Sorry for the Wait and Sorry for the Wait 2. Wayne has been very public about his issues with Birdman, stubbornly but calmly reminding us that he deserves the money he has worked for. Last year, he performed on the Ellen Show with Chance the Rapper and 2 Chainz, and he changed up his lyrics live, rapping, “And if Cash Money try to stop me, I’m gon’ let ’em rob me, yeah right!” Despite his legal issues, Lil Wayne is still sharing his playful energy and releasing tracks for his fans – he’s enjoying his art just as much as ever.

“No Haters” is a striking track from the album Sorry for the Wait 2 that reveals a seriousness in Wayne that isn’t present in all of his music. This song, the fifteenth of the album, is one long verse with a quick, consistent rhythm. In it, Lil Wayne builds to the remark: “We catch a body and we laugh about it/It’s catastrophic but we glamorize it.” Some might say Lil Wayne is being “too real;” instead of continuing to project positive vibes that center around ego and fun, he’s forcing us to remember that undeniable tragedy is part of the rap world. These words are really significant to note because Lil Wayne has said, “Music is about self. It’s supposed to be personal, a reflection of me.” Clearly, Lil Wayne himself is not immune to death around him, despite the glamour rap often credits to violence.

Lil Wayne also reveals himself to us in “I Feel Like Dying” from the unofficial compilation album released in 2007: The Drought is Over 2. This track samples “Once” by Henry-Ates (admittedly, Wayne was sued for copyright infringement over this song) in the hook: “Only once the drugs are done/Do I feel like dying.” Lil Wayne adds, “I wish I could give you this feeling/That I feel like buying/And if my dealer have no more/Then I feel like dying.” No glamorization of the drug culture – indeed, far from it. Wayne references cough syrup, also known as lean or purple drank, and cocaine in many of his songs. When asked about his usage of cough syrup, which contains codeine (opiate) and promethazine (antipsychotic), he revealed his awareness of its harmful effects but explained, “I’m going through that same shit with my friends, with my mom. Everybody wants me to stop all this and all that. It ain’t that easy.” On the other hand, when asked about cocaine, he answered that he’s quit because, “Cocaine makes your face break out, and I’m a pretty boy.”

It’s wild how these things work: Lil Wayne stopped taking cocaine because it harms the way he looks, which is valued very highly in our culture, especially for celebrities. He’s still drinking lean because it harms the inside of his body, and the negative effects are not noticeable to others on the daily. Wayne has been hospitalized many times for seizures, and while cough syrup has not been shown to cause seizures, medical professionals insist that it can cause death with overdose. “Live fast, die young, and leave behind a beautiful corpse,” Lil Wayne tells us on the song “Krazy.”

Next time you listen to the one-and-only Lil Weezy of Young Money Records and his 1500 released tracks, I hope you’ll think about his unique story. Listen to both his lank (mixture of lit and dank) work and his honest, somber raps and notice that you’re always listening to the same Lil Wayne.

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