That same year, he officially took the moniker Lil Wayne, dropping the "D" from his first name in order to separate himself from an absent father. He joined B.G., Juvenile, and Young Turk for another Fresh project, the teen hardcore rap group the Hot Boys, who released their debut album, Get It How U Live!, in 1997. Two years later, Cash Money would sign a distribution deal with the major label Universal. Mainstream distribution would help that year's Hot Boys album Guerrilla Warfare to reach the number one spot on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart. In 1998, Lil Wayne would appear on Juvenile's hit single 'Back That Thing Up', or 'Back That Azz Up' as it appeared on Juvie's album 400 Degreez. Wayne would launch his solo career a year later with the album Tha Block Is Hot, featuring the hit single title track. It went double platinum but the rapper was still unknown to Middle America, since his hardcore rhymes and the rough Cash Money sound had not yet crossed over. His second album, Lights Out (2000), failed to match the success of its predecessor but it did go gold, and with an appearance on the Big Tymers' hit single '#1 Stunna', his audience was certainly growing. While Fresh was primarily responsible for launching his career, Wayne was now much closer to Fresh's fellow Big Tymer and Cash Money CEO Birdman. When Juvenile left the label, Wayne -- or "Birdman Jr." as he was calling himself -- showed his allegiance to his CEO by releasing an album with a title much hotter than Juvie's breakthrough effort. 500 Degreez landed in 2002 and while it went gold, rumors began flying about Cash Money's financial troubles and possible demise. The rest of the Hot Boys had defected and Wayne's planned 2003 album was scrapped, coming out instead as an underground mixtape called Da Drought.
Wayne became enamored with the mixtape world after Da Drought drew so much attention from the Hip Hop press. He used these underground releases to drum up anticipation for his next official album, the breakthrough effort Tha Carter. Released in 2004, the album seemed familiar on one hand with Mannie Fresh's production, but the Wayne on the cover was a dreadlocked surprise, and the rhymes he laid on the tracks showed significant growth. His marketing skills had become sharper, too, and it was no mistake that the album's hit single, 'Go DJ', mentioned Hip Hop's greatest tastemakers right in the title. It reached number five on the singles chart, and with a guest shot on Destiny's Child's number three single, 'Soldier', Wayne had officially crossed over. On the flip side, his street cred was supported by a slew of mixtapes released in 2005, including the popular titles Dedication with DJ Drama and Tha Suffix with DJ Khaled. Cash Money's future was no longer in doubt and traditional music business rules no longer seemed to apply, as tracks would be leaked onto the Internet and various DJs' mixtapes. 'Get Something' was another bold move, as a Universal-funded video was made without the track ever seeing official release.
With his alternative marketing scheme working in overdrive, the 2005 landing of Tha Carter II was a major event, selling over a quarter-million copies the week of its release. 'Fireman' and 'Shooter' with Robin Thicke were released as singles, while the album -- which for the first time featured no Mannie Fresh productions -- went platinum. It also introduced his Young Money posse, with appearances from Currensy and Nicki Minaj, and initially came with a bonus disc featuring Wayne's greatest hits screwed and chopped by Swishahouse DJ Michael "5000" Watts. A year later he collaborated with Birdman for the Like Father, Like Son album, featuring the hit single 'Stuntin' Like My Daddy'. His mixtapes were still flooding the underground, including the stunning Dedication 2, which came with an iconic image of the rapper on the cover plus the much talked-about track 'Georgia...Bush', a venomous response to President George W. Bush's handling of the Katrina disaster. With no official follow-up to Tha Carter II in sight, numerous collaborative tracks kept the rapper in the mainstream with 'Gimme That' by Chris Brown, 'Make It Rain' by Fat Joe, and 'Duffle Bag Boy' by Playaz Circle becoming three of the biggest hits.
Tha Carter III was promised for 2007 but didn't arrive until a year later, setting off Wayne's infamous reputation of delayed releases. Part of the problem became unauthorized leaks of the album's tracks, something combatted by the official, downloadable EP The Leak released that same year. Preceded by the number one hit 'Lollipop', Tha Carter III arrived in May of 2008, selling more than a million copies in its first week of release. An appearance on Saturday Night Live and four Grammy Awards -- including Best Rap Album -- spoke to Wayne's mainstream acceptance. He also performed at that year's Country Music Awards with Kid Rock, but rather than rap, he played guitar. The guitar playing was part of Wayne's new involvement with rock music, including his help in signing Kevin Rudolf to Cash Money plus an appearance on Rudolf's massive hit 'Let It Rock'. His planned rock album was previewed with the 2009 single 'Prom Queen', but when the album failed to meet its promised April release, the music press began to portray the rapper as the king of missed street dates.
Unconcerned, Wayne forged ahead with his Young Money crew, releasing the underground mixtape Young Money Is the Army, Better Yet the Navy, the aboveground single 'Every Girl', plus the official album We Are Young Money that same year. His rock album, Rebirth, would finally appear in early 2010, which coincided with Wayne being sentenced to a nine-month prison term for criminal possession of a weapon. The rapper may have been behind bars on Riker's Island, but that didn't stop his ten-song EP, I Am Not a Human Being, from seeing the light of day in September 2010. Tha Carter IV was finally released in 2011 along with its lead-off single '6 Foot 7 Foot'. The album reached the top spot in Billboard's Top 200. A second volume, I Am Not a Human Being II, arrived in 2013 featuring the singles 'No Worries' and 'Love Me'.
Words: David Jeffries
Released with less fanfare than you’d expect from the self-proclaimed “greatest rapper alive,” Lil Wayne’s I Am Not a Human Being landed on the streets while the rapper was behind bars. Any effort finished while in prison automatically falls into the “stopgap release” category, but what was originally planned as an EP to mark Weezy’s birthday somehow became a ten-track mini-album, and its quality is just a shade below any given entry in his Carter series. The biggest flaws are run time and an overall layout that just doesn’t flow like his albums, but when sci-fi beats (“shout out to all my moon men”) and sexually transmitted diseases collide on the vicious “Gonorrhea,” it’s obvious these aren't just leftovers. Human Being barely seems concerned with current affairs either, as grand single “Right Above It” swaggers and struts like a free man cruising through the club (“I been fly for so long/I fell asleep on the f’n plane”), while Weezy’s good luck with the ladies is the topic that drives three killer cuts (the freaky doo wop “With You,” the woozy porno dream “I’m Single,” and the free-association smut number “Popular”). His Young Money crew is well represented with Drake on four tracks and Nicki Minaj on one and the production is as slick and clever as ever, making a full recovery after the drabness found on his rap-rock effort, Rebirth. This is too short and scattered to put on his top shelf, but it comes awfully close, which is downright astonishing considering the circumstances.
Words: David Jeffries
Compared to the albums he's released under the name Tha Carter, Lil Wayne's I Am Not a Human Being series is noticeably looser. The quality control is certainly above mixtape or street-release level, but stray tracks and Carter leftovers are given their homes here, while the overall album flow is allowed to be reckless. Here, Weezy's wisecracking rebel songs get bunched together, coming off as redundant blasts of evil genius narcisswagger, where flaccid penises are "sleeping giants," codeine, promithazene, and weed are the recommended vitamins, and spending your birthday in jail ain't no biggie because the Playboy Mansion can always reschedule. In other words, he lives on this earth but this stopgap release's title is apt, and also believable, since Wayne's real world bio plays more like a comic book origin story, being raised by surrogate father Birdman in the halls of Cash Money. Bundle that background with stunning talent, true wit, and a John Holmes level of cocksure, and it doesn't matter that the bedroom-bragging "Curtains" is next to the conquest-listing "Days and Days," because the first has a rock-solid hook and pop-rap craftsmanship, while the second has a 2 Chainz feature and "You know I'm on that grass/Don't turn on the sprinkles" amongst its many quotables. 2 Chainz is back for more boasting on "Rich as Fuck," a winner with an enticing and eerie beat from T-Minus. Producer Mike WILL Made-It offers a posh and radio-friendly version of the traditional swagger track, covering the "good kush and alcohol" number "Love Me" in sounds so buttery smooth that hitmakers Drake and Future sound wonderfully couch-locked and comfortable. Brilliant single "My Homies Still" is only on the Deluxe version, in frustrating "it's not really an official, official album" fashion, and yet all this redundancy and the scattershot complaints become minor when the album breaks character and gives up surprising diversions like power-baller "Back to You" (rap-rock that really works), the raw, Dirty South winner "Wowzers" (diva Trina wants sex "till' daybreak, then you can go skate"), and the quite good political commentary sketchbook dubbed "God Bless Amerika" ("I saw a butterfly in hell" might not read well, but the way it's dropped in the song is superb). This is an indulgent jumble of a sideline release, but that doesn't mean Wayne isn't in fine form. He is, and anyone with four Carters already on their shelves will certainly want this one.
Words: David Jeffries
Following Big Tymers' Hood Rich on up the charts, Lil Wayne's third album tries to trump the big Cash Money hit by ex-labelmate Juvenile (400 Degreez). With the smooth, laid-back productions of Mannie Fresh leading the way for Wayne's drawling delivery, 500 Degreez does just that. Yes, it's a little top-heavy, but the highlights come quickly, with the leadoff (after the intro) "Look at Me" sporting a freakfest vibe along with Fresh's top-flight beats. The whole album's powered by the infectious party hit "Way of Life," building on the rocksteady rhythm of Eric B. & Rakim's "Paid in Full." Even better is "Gangsta Shit," a synth-heavy roller with Petey Pablo besting even Wayne himself on the mic.
Words: John Bush
Selling over 250,000 copies, The Leak was Lil’ Wayne’s first ever EP. Recorded during the same sessions as Tha Carter III recordings, the tracks were originally leaked on the internet by an unknown source. Taking it upon himself to release the tracks in an EP format so that his fans without access to the unofficial leaks now had access, the material contained was rewarded with the same type of acclaim that the rest of Tha Carter III was. Lyrically at the top of his game with a penchant for selecting the best of the best as far as beats were concerned, Wayne included tracks such as “Love Me or Hate Me”, the Maestro produced “Kush”, and “I’m Me”, which featuring a few lyrical similarities to Tha Carter III opener “3 Peat” might well have been the album’s original intro before the first leak.
Words: Will “ill Will” Lavin"
At a time when Lil’ Wayne was quite literally the most sought after rapper in the world, his success, like most, bred comfort, and with that comfort came the desire to experiment. Having always expressed an interest in rock music and indie culture, whether it be in the way he dressed, the occasional shout out, or his love of skateboarding, Rebirth ended up being Wayne’s way of paying homage to his other interests. Not received all that well critically, it didn’t matter. Selling over 775,000 copies in America alone as of 2011, the fans appeared to enjoy Wayne’s guitar-driven offering. Dipping his toe in to the various manifestations of rock music, the likes of punk, grunge, and emo were all apparent. Playing with auto tune and heavy duty instrumental soundscapes, rap was still a key element throughout. Rapping side by side with Eminem on “Drop The World”, as well as spitting some angry raps on “Ground Zero”, it proved you could take the boy out of Hip Hop but you couldn’t take Hip Hop out of the boy.
Words: Will “ill Will” Lavin"
Cash Money's rise and fall has been talked to death, but it's important to note that the 2006 collaboration between Birdman (Cash Money CEO) and Lil Wayne (Birdman's "surrogate son" and Cash Money's president) lands while the label is on the upswing. Critically, they're doing better than ever, respected in a way they weren't back when they had Juvenile and Mannie Fresh. The biggest reason of all is Lil Wayne's Tha Carter 2, so Birdman bumps him up to president and suddenly the rapper who was evolving with more complex lyrics, strange vocal rhythms, and risky production choices is creative director of the label that used be the down-low dirty-dirty. Like Father, Like Son is a celebration of Wayne and Cash Money's success, a testament to the allegiance the two feel toward each other, and most likely a way for Birdman to set Wayne on the right path as label boss. When it came to singles, Tha Carter 2 stalled after the leadoff "Fireman," so it's no big surprise this album is filled with hooks, infectious beats, and that trunk-rumbling weekend music Cash Money was built on. Synthesized horns blast out "Stuntin' Like My Daddy"'s triumphant melody, while the instantly gripping "Know What I'm Doing" works because it's keep-it-simple-stupid swagger music like the Big Tymers used to kick. Birdman might be reinforcing what Cash Money was built on, but he's well aware of his boy's talent and gives the freedom-craving, forward-looking baller adequate room to roam. The woozy "Leather So Soft" had to be Wayne's idea, "Army Gunz" features one of his most broken deliveries yet, and on the title track he offers, "I'll put you niggas in the closet in the shirt space/Niggas yellow like Sesame Street's Bert face." Production comes primarily from TMIX - the UGK-sampling "1st Key" is his masterwork - although Scott Storch stops by for the so-so "You Ain't Know," a great argument the beat-maker is spread too thin in his prolific 2006. The mix of familiar and strange is fascinating, the team-up feels like family, and at 20 tracks long, the album doesn't wear out its welcome. There's probably too much get money/stack-paper for those who want Wayne to speak on the injustices New Orleans has suffered post-Katrina, or to get to work on Tha Carter 3, but that's not what Like Father, Like Son is about. This is the sure sound of Cash Money steadying the ship and getting back on course.
Words: David Jeffries