For a period of about four years it was impossible to watch any hip-hop/rap-related video on YouTube without a thousand comments in the spirit of “This is better than Lil Wayne.” With the arrival of the like/dislike bar came the ever-inventive “52 people listen to Lil Wayne,” where the poster of the comment assumes their joke will still be relevant in two hours when the dislike bar gains another couple of thumbs down – it won’t be. Or for the straight-talking among us there was always the eloquent simplicity of “fuck lil GAYne.”
Recently the fallen rapper has been hospitalised after apparently collapsing. It's good to see that he's recovering and that the seizure he reportedly suffered hasn't damaged him too badly. But even in the midst of a potentially life threatening episode, people were still insulting the rapper on Twitter.
For a while I was confused as to where all this animosity came from – he was just another rapper, after all, a successful embodiment of the American dream who wasn’t really offending anyone in a thug life “fuck the world” kind of way, but to this day gets more shit than anyone in hip-hop. (Except maybe Drake, but I’m pretty sure he deserves it.)
In my mind Lil Wayne was the rising star of the Dirty South – from 1999 to 2002 he had dropped three solid-to-good albums in the southern bounce style, going on to show his progression as a rapper with the release of ‘Tha Carter’ in 2004. By 2005’s ‘Tha Carter II’ he was on fire, to which the flow-spilling album opener, “Tha Mobb,” will attest. Three years later and the third instalment in his Carter quartet helped the rapper make his shift to universal stardom, packing a combination of smart hip-hop humour in tracks like “Dr. Carter” and a more mainstream vibe with the Robin Thicke sing-a-longs and T-Pain autotune choruses.
But then I realised something – this wasn’t the Lil Wayne everyone else knew, least of all in the UK, where ‘Tha Carter III’ was his first album to chart and even then only off the back of four singles, three of which were arguably the worst songs on the album. As far as Britain was concerned, Lil Wayne was the guy who looked like a cross between Yoda and your grandma and sang a thinly-veiled song about blowjobs and wrappers (get it – rappers?). Then, once Weezy had the attention of our nation, he rallied the Young Money militia to put out 2009’s rap-response to the Carry On innuendos of days gone by – “Call me Mr. Flinstone ‘cos I can make your bed rock” was everywhere and Lil Wayne was the guy to blame.
It was also around this time he recorded that now-infamous Tim Westwood ‘freestyle,’ but cut the guy some slack – you try spitting a hot verse when you’re swimming in more sizzurp than Augustus Gloop. Meanwhile, when he wasn’t appearing on everyone-else-in-music’s singles, it became common knowledge that Wayne was busy working away on his rock album, presumably tweaking those notes on his guitar solo or slapping bass on the old Fender Jazz. The problem is rap-rock or nu-metal, or whatever it gets called, is always bad. We used to head-bang to Papa Roach at Year 8 discos and that’s pretty much where it should have stayed. But surely Lil Wayne could pull it off? No, not really.
It’s not really fair to say Lil Wayne fell off – his bars can still pack a punch, for example last summer’s shot at Jay-Z; “Talkin’ ‘bout baby money? I gotcha baby money – Kidnap your bitch, get that ‘How much you love your lady’-money,” – but his musical output definitely lacks the thirst and energy of his mixtape-crazy run-up to ‘Tha Carter III.’
For a rapper who had their debut album out at the age of 17 I think Lil Wayne is so often overlooked as a significant part of modern hip-hop and the enormous role he plays should never be underestimated. It’s just a bit too easy to be cynical about Lil Wayne and a bit too much effort to go back to the era when he was still making exciting, relevant music. All I can really say is how thankful I was for the release of “6 Foot 7 Foot,” the Bangladesh-produced fireball that sounded like “A Milli” on bath salts, and the subsequent redressing of the Carter series – part four wasn’t incredible, but it was good and kind of made it a bit easier for me to defend Lil Wayne at parties. People don’t really invite me to parties anymore though.