Mysterious as he is prolific, Lil Wayne has morphed in the last few years from underground phenomenon to living legend. His controversies only seem to strengthen his mythology; strip away the tabloid fodder and there is only one reason Lil Wayne has become the most buzzed about rapper since Jay-Z: he is a captivating, and has no real rival.
Born Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr., Lil Wayne is a native of New Orleans. Born in 1982, he was in a program for gifted kids, even entering the drama club by middle school. At 11, he met Bryan “Baby” Williams, owner of the then-budding Cash Money Records. After leaving raps on Baby’s answering machine, Wayne was brought into CMR’s fold and quit school at 14.
In 1997, Wayne became part of the then-burgeoning Southern rap movement as the youngest member of the group Hot Boys. He soon appeared on a song by Hot Boys member Juvenile, whereupon he uttered the now ubiquitous phrase “Drop it like it’s hot.” (Not long after, Wayne, along with members of his crew, took to calling jewelry as “bling-bling,” a term now fully ingrained in the American lexicon.) Wayne’s 1999 solo album, the platinum Tha Block Is Hot, was highly regarded, and it shot to #3 on the Billboard 200.
His 2000 follow-up album, Lights Out, went gold, followed by another gold album, 500 Degreez, but it was the release of Tha Carter in 2004 when Lil Wayne began to hit the artistic stride. Experimenting with rhythm, cadence, and a general use of his voice as melodic instrument, Wayne also began perfecting a vivid and often humorous, sometimes stream-of-consciousness narrative style. Soon after, he appeared on “Soldier” by Destiny’s Child, which topped charts. Wayne became a hot commodity, with artists including Fat Joe, Jay-Z, Bobby Valentino, and Kanye West featuring him on their songs.
By 2006, Wayne’s career was moving at warp speed. There was Tha Carter II, also gold, and a blitzkrieg of mixtapes. Somewhere in between, Wayne found time to enroll in college, studying political science at University of Houston in 2005. That interest perhaps influenced his scathing of President Bush on his acclaimed song about Hurricane Katrina, “Georgia…Bush.”
He is said to have made over 800 recordings in 2007, and almost as fast as the songs appeared, so came the praise. Rolling Stone called his “Drought” series among the best albums of 2007; GQ named him one of their men of the year; an MTV poll crowned him emcee of the year; and Blender named him Best Rock Star Alive.
All of this has fueled intense anticipation for his next album, Tha Carter III, due in June. That project’s lead single, “Lollipop,” is his biggest hit to date — landing at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and MTV’s TRL — proof that he has fully cracked the mainstream. Moreover, the song’s success suggests that in spite of everything he’s done already, he’s really just getting started.