I was sixteen years old when a friend of mine first introduced me to Lil Wayne. We were working as bus boys together at an Outback Steakhouse in Lufkin, TX, and this guy was one of the best rappers I have ever met in person.
He had memorized every one of Weezy’s most memorable verses circulating the radio and internet, and in 2007, that was a lot of verses. However, my rap acumen at that time lacked a great deal. I had been a huge hip-hop fan earlier in my youth, but my freshman year of high-school saw me entering a classic-rock phase fused with bits of metal, alternative rock, and a heavy dose of John Mayer.
There was a bit of a time gap between when the kids were going crazy for Nellyville and the time Lil Wayne started his onslaught of the rap world. It was a lengthy void for rap, or a “drought” as some labeled it. A void filled only with Pop-y radio rap hits and underground artists in Houston and Atlanta that couldn’t get national exposure.
When the Carter II was released, I wasn’t even aware of it. I hadn’t heard Fireman, Shooter, Best Rapper Alive, Hustler Muzik, Hit ‘Em Up, or any of Lil Wayne’s hits from that era.
And then one day, something happened.
I was riding around with my brother in his friend’s brand new powder blue Dodge single cap pickup truck with a six inch lift when a song came on the radio that I had heard before, but I had never previously listened to very closely.
I heard the words: “Ahh… I am the beast, feed me rappers or feed me beats!”
My eyes fixated on the screen of the CD player. My breath stilled, my ears perked up and honed in like a bird dog, my heart beat slowed… Something important was happening.
“I’m insane I need a shrink, I’m untamed I need a leash. I like brain I need a leach. Why complain on Easy Street? I don’t gotta talk I let the Visa speak and I like my Sprite Easter Pink.”
I was so excited, so blown away, and so inspired! I wanted to find all of the Lil Wayne music I could. I bought the Carter II from Best Buy with a gift-card I had. I started downloading mixtape after mixtape. All under the careful tutelage of my friend Tyrell from Outback, I began my journey of what is now ten years of becoming a Lil Wayne fan.
Because of the sheer volume of music Weezy released during the run of his hay day, you didn’t have to be a rap fan. You didn’t have to be a fan of any particular genre, you could be a Lil Wayne fan. As if it was its own genre! No one had ever put out so much quality music in such a short period of time. In an era when record sales, artist loyalty, and album consistency were all in decline, Lil Wayne embodied it all.
The people who didn’t see the Carter III’s one millions copies plus sold in one week coming didn’t understand that it had nothing to do with the album itself. Of course we wanted the Carter III to be great. We held it up as the gold standard that would cement Lil Wayne as being the best rapper alive, because the only lack on his resume was a legendary album.
But besides all of that, we wanted to buy the Carter III because we felt like we owed it to Lil Wayne. When you create a new genre, as Lil Wayne did, and then you release an album, you are the only album in that new genre. In a sense, that’s what Lil Wayne did. If you are a fan of Lil Wayne music, why wouldn’t you support the artist that had been giving you so much free music that you couldn’t even consume it all?
In those high school days of mine, Lil Wayne gave me someone to believe in. Just as the kids during Kurt Cobain’s days, just as the fans of Led Zeppelin, Elvis, the Grateful Dead, and the Beatles. Lil Wayne was that for middle, high-school, and college kids from the late 2000’s to the early 2010’s.
For me, listening to Lil Wayne rap about hustling and grinding before that’s all everybody and their mom were rapping about, helped me be prideful in being a bus boy at Outback Steakhouse. It helped me feel good about working hard and making money, and building a life that I could enjoy. I even give credit to Weezy for me founding my clothing line HSTLR Wear.
Music has always had the ability to inspire people throughout generations. Some people love the instrumental aspect, but for me, I was raised on classic rock. I was raised on the Eagles and Led Zeppelin, Queen, and the Steve Miller Band. For me, lyrics were everything.
Rap music took a turn after the first retirement of Jay Z, in which lyrics were no longer valued, and therefore they weren’t good. They were corporately designed, ghost-written, rap-pop songs. Lil Wayne changed that with his rise to power and dominance, and he may have changed it forever.
"I'm the best rapper alive since the best rapper retired." -Lil Wayne
Every rap or hip-hop artist around today has visible influences of Lil Wayne. Whether it’s a minor indy artist or the biggest starts, every one has crafted their music in the new landscape of rap shaped by Lil Wayne.
Look at how the most important aspect of Kendrick Lamar’s raps are always the lyrics. Look at the heavy focus on subliminal disses hidden in lyrics from Big Sean to Drake. Look at the powerful messages from rappers like Macklemore and J-Cole.
I’m not saying Lil Wayne invented lyricism in rap. Nas, Jay Z, Eminem and many others all deserve enormous credit for what they’ve done for rap. But Lil Wayne saved hip-hop.
Think about Rock for example. Rock and Roll never recovered from the overly corporate late 80’s and is today filled with American Idol contestants and studio pop-up bands. Real Rock and Roll is dead. That almost happened with Rap too. Without Lil Wayne, Rap was heading down the same road of soulless corporatism.
So, this post is my thank you to Weezy. Thank you for inspiring me to work hard and dream big. Thank you for working harder than any other rapper in history to save hip hop from death. And thank you for still going strong in 2018 with bangers that put these other clowns to shame.
Here’s to you Lil Wayne. #WeezysTheGOAT