Lil Wayne turns 35-years-old today and while things have turned slightly sour for the artist of late, haunted by legal disputes with his former mentor Birdman and various scary health issues, Weezy dominated an entire decade of music, beyond just hip-hop and rap.
We’re gonna take a look at how a kid from Hollygrove, New Orleans became the biggest music star in the world.
Tha Block Is Hot (1999)
It all started in 1999, when a 17-year-old Wayne dropped Tha Block Is Hot and while we’d seen Weezy with Cash Money collective Hot Boys alongside Juvenile, B.G., and Turk, this was Wayne’s exclusive introduction to the world.
It’s clear on Tha Block Is Hot what a talent Wayne was even at such a young age. Over a variety of production from the great Mannie Fresh, Wayne rhymed in different tempos, styles, all the while mixing in his trademark wordplay and metaphors.
Wayne painted a picture of his neighborhood in Hollygrove, New Orleans. At times going hard over jumpy Mannie Fresh beats.
But he had the ability to slow down and meditate on the shit he saw growing up. Like on “F*** Tha World,” over a contemplative and emotive beat from Mannie.
Despite the fact that he promised his mom he wouldn’t curse on this album, he couldn’t resist on this track, singing on the chorus, “I don’t curse but in this verse, man fuck the world.”
Even to this day, this might be one of Wayne’s most emotional songs. It’s as conscious as he gets, rapping,
“So I just maintain the struggle and I keep tryin
But how can I when my closest people keep dyin’
I ain’t lyin that the law tryna’ bust my clique
But I scream fuck the world man, I’m too young for this”
The album peaked at 3 on the Billboard charts, the music world at large was already feeling Weezy as a 17-year-old.
Lights Out (2000)
A year later, Wayne dropped Lights Out and continued rising to the top. Backed up once again by exclusive Mannie Fresh production, Wayne could hang right along with the legendary producer despite all the wild shit Mannie was doing.
No longer held back by promises to his mother that he wouldn’t curse, Weezy was unleashed. On “Fuck Wit Me Now,” Wayne rapped in a rapid flow, keeping up with Mannie Fresh’s firing horns. Wayne was more grown than on Tha Block Is Hot and his subject matter was darker and more pointed.
But Weezy has always been able to make some fun ass music. “Shine” may just be one of my favorite Weezy songs ever.
It’s impossible not to groove along to this song, as Wayne brought the Hoy Boys back together for a celebration of Cash Money’s success at the time.
Lights Out went certified gold. There wasn’t any sophomore slump here.
500 Degreez (2002)
Inspired by Juve’s 400 Degreez, Wayne dropped 500 Degreez for his third release in three years, making him one of the most prolific artists in rap already despite turning 20 months after 500 Degreez dropped.
It’s a pretty no-nonsense record, with most songs depicting Wayne’s life in the streets. 500 Degreez was propelled by the “Paid In Full”-sampling “Way Of Life,” the only single on the album.
This is probably Lil Wayne’s least accessible album, but upon multiple listens it’s a classic. Regardless, it went gold as well.
Tha Carter (2004)
I wrote about Tha Carter on its 13th anniversary back in June, and it’s the most important record in his collection. On Tha Carter, Lil Wayne graduated from rap prospect full of potential to established as a legitimate artist in the game. It was his fourth album despite only being 22.
With “Go DJ,” Weezy had his biggest song to that point. To many casual rap listeners, this was their introduction to Lil Wayne and it didn’t disappoint. “Go DJ” was pretty unavoidable on rap and pop radio back in 2004.
Once again Wayne was provided a diverse array of beats by Mannie Fresh (the last Wayne project to feature exclusively Mannie Fresh production) and the rapper adapted his flow and approach to each instrumental.
On “Snitch” he rapped about responding to snitches over a groovy synth beat.
And on “Hoes,” Weezy flows effortlessly over a pan flute beat.
Tha Carter was the beginning of Wayne’s genre-defining run, once again going gold.
Tha Carter II (2005)
If Tha Carter was the beginning of Lil Wayne’s domination of the airwaves, Tha Carter II was the project that confirmed his place amongst hip-hop’s best. It went certified platinum and reached number 2 on the Billboard charts.
“Fireman” was the single that brought the ears to Tha Carter II, but the whole project is an almost flawless collection of polished rap music.
Free from Mannie Fresh’s funky production, Wayne had a much bigger and intense sound on this record. With different producers, Wayne lost some of the cohesion of the earlier releases, but he made up for it by roasting every beat he took on.
And on Tha Carter II, he officially declared himself the “Best Rapper Alive.” No one was arguing with him.
Looking back on Tha Carter II, it has to be on the list of greatest albums of the 2000s. While it didn’t garner the same hype as Tha Carter III, track after track, Wayne is absolutely going in.
And by bringing in Robin Thicke for the slow-building “Shooter,” Wayne showed he could work with virtually any artist in music… and make a damn hit.
Tha Carter III (2008)
While the release process behind The Carter III kept getting held up due to lawsuits and constant threat of leaks, Wayne dropped the legendary mixtapes Dedication 2 (2006) and Da Drought 3 (2007), jumping on a selection of beats from the music world and consistently making better songs than the original.
It seemed like Wayne literally couldn’t stop making music. He also had dropped the collaboration album with Birdman Like Father, Like Son, an album that makes the listener look back sadly about how their relationship has deteriorated more than anything.
When we finally got The Carter III, well it was damn sure worth the wait.
From the opening track “3 Peat,” Tha Carter III is a rap masterpiece. It’s Wayne’s magnum opus and displayed the best rapper alive at the height of his abilities.
At times, he goes hard as ever. Like on “A Milli,” when Weezy just keeps going and going with no chorus in one of the most infectious songs of all-time.
He had poppy R&B ballads with Babyface, Robin Thicke, and Bobby Valentino.
“Lollipop” was the biggest song in the world for a minute. I mean, it became kind of annoying but it’s still Wayne’s biggest single to date, spending five straight weeks atop the Billboard charts.
While making these hits for the radio and bangers for the streets, Wayne was still coming with the wild concept tracks. Like on “Dr. Carter,” where he resuscitates wack rappers’ careers.
And on “Let The Beat Build” where he goes in on a progressively growing soul beat.
Tha Carter III peaked at number 1 on the Billboard charts and went triple platinum. No one could deny that Weezy was the greatest at the time.
He ended off the decade with the legendary mixtape No Ceilings, once again flipping other artist’s beats with his own groove.
All the while, Wayne was being featured on songs with crossover artists like Destiny Child on “Soldier,” Lloyd, T-Pain, Enrique Iglesias, Akon, Jay Sean, Chris Brown, Madonna, and Kelly Rowland. Dude was just everywhere.
Not to mention, signing two of the biggest artists ever in Drake and Nicki Minaj (shouts to Gudda Gudda), Lil Wayne simply ruled the 2000s.
He changed the way rappers release music, who rappers make music with, and started an entire wave. Wayne’s been through a lot since and his music has suffered slightly, but we’ll always be grateful for what he gave us during his run in the 2000s.
Salute to the (still) greatest rapper alive.