Yea, Thats weezy

I was at a barbecue type event in the summer of 2003 when the topic of the best rapper came up. Of course, you got the usual suspects (Jay, Nas, Eminem, I’m sure even the likes of Jadakiss got a nod or 2). When one dude said “I know this is gonna sound crazy but Sqad Up”. Me not being familiar with the mixtape scene, I had to be told he was talking about Lil Wayne. Of course, my face scrounged up and looked at dude funny, he even know that statement was somehow blasphemous.

Five years later, he still isn’t the best, but the statement is arguable now. Lil Wayne embodies the best of both the past and future of the record industry. Lupe Fiasco embodies the pressures put on the modern artist. He was annointed the next big thing before most of us even heard a single verse. He was backed by the likes of Jay-Z, Kanye West and The Neptunes, destined to be a superstar. The flow was hot, the album was solid but it wasn’t the classic the buzz he produced would have you believe he was capable of. But then again, how many people would have? The critical acclaim was strong but the album sales weren’t there.

Wayne had no buzz when he came out. Though his first album went double platinum, he wasn’t the cornerstone of Cash Money Records. He was allowed to play the background to Juvenile, B.G. and to a certain extent Mannie Fresh. You almost go the feeling that he and Young Turk were just happy to be on the squad. Being 16 at the time, they could have packaged him as a teenier bopper rapper, singing mostly love songs and about school (ala Bow Wow, who came out around the same time). Then again, that wasn’t the image Cash Money was trying to portray.

Anyway, while the company expanded and contracted its roster, Weezy was steady in his work, putting out 2 more albums that didn’t obtain the commercial success of The Block is Hot, while being criticized for not maturing as an artist. But he was able to put those albums out without pressure, without fear of being dropped from the label or having to repeat the success of his first album. That artist development is sorely lacking in today’s record industry. If you don’t have a hot single or ringtone sales on a major label, good luck.

By the time Tha Carter dropped, major improvement could be noted in Wayne’s delivery, chopped up flow and lyrical creativity (I ain’t trippin nigga, I play the corner like Ripken Nigga, with the 40 cal Ripkin nigga, Rip a nigga). The album marked Wayne’s restored platinum status and new critical acclaim from both Wayne loyalist and those seeing him as more than just a Hot Boy. His early development and slow development as an artist, made possible the experimentation, risk taking and growth apparent in his music since.

Lil Wayne’s slow accent to the top of Hip Hop coincides with the slow, painful decline of the record industry. How do you sell records when people have such easy access to getting it for free? Hip hop’s answer in general, and Wayne in particular, has been the mixtape. As the name implies, these free offerings have been around since the area of cassettes and boom boxes. Where most rappers tend to populate their mixtapes with throw away tracks and B-sides, Wayne seems to thrive in this free form. Wayne has given away some of his best work on mixtapes (I’m Me, Something You Forgot, Help, Prostitute Flange, I Feel like Dying).

Its almost like the work ethic of a new artist. Put out free material for your fan base (and to build your fan base), jump on everyone else records (for the past 2 years, your hard pressed to find an artist Wayne hasn’t given a hot 16 to) and have trust in them. The record industry doesn’t want to trust their customers. As Lil Wayne proved, going platinum in less than a week, if you put out enough free material and gain the trust of the fans, they will support. The industry is too concerned with the short money.

No discussion of Lil Wayne would be complete without commenting on his actual skill. Now, drugs may not be good if you work a regular 9-5, but herbs and chemicals seem to be a necessity for great music. There is a long standing tradition in Music, and Hip Hop, of CUI, creating under the influence. This would need to some raw, rough music where the jagged edges weren’t smoothed out but exaggerated. No one seems to get high anymore and record. When Lil Wanye drops a line like “Im probably in the sky flying with the fishes, or maybe in the ocean swimming with the pigeons“, you know he wasn’t in his right mind.

And quoting a Lil Wayne line in a blog defeats the point; it’s all about the delivery of the line. A song like “I Feel like Dying” is completely dependent on Wayne’s weezy, nasally voice spitting bars at a snails pace. O his verse on “We Taking Over” with boost of “I am the beast, feed me rappers or feed me beats” works because of the bravado as desperation almost bursting out of his throat. While the subject matter or depth of the lyrics is nothing to write home about, the metaphors and imagery conveyed in killing someone (Yea bitch im heavy metaling and you get the fucking led zeppelin), fucking yo bitch (her nigga saw her leave, she’ll deal with him later, right she’s with the greatest, im even homies favorite), problems of commitment ( I can’t trip cause no one love the fast life, Sittin’ in the passenger seat hold tight, But she gets a whole platter with my whole life, But for me that to much to eat in one bite) or just plain bragging (My flow is nasty, like c y phyllis).

While is lyrical content has always been more about flossing than the lack of universal dental care, after Katrina, I would hope the prince of New Orleans would have something to say. While he didn’t have much to say, what he did say made sense. As a symbol of a hurt people, way tried to keep the music flowing as he did before. Yet, the state of his city was never far from his mind, surrounding his usual offering with lines like “It rains a lot in my city because my cities dying” and “They tryna make a brand new map without, but the tourist come down and spend too many dollars, and no matter how you change it’ll still be ours”. The tragedy of New Orleans was not going to break his spirit, but his spirit would be informed by it and have something to say, but not change him.