By Holden Caplan
Unpopular opinion: Lil Wayne is the best to ever do it.
The multi-talented, third-eye using, mysterious cup sipping, king of rap is the foundation of modern music, and I am happy to argue on his behalf with anyone who feels or thinks otherwise. There has not been a more influential artist in the past 20 years (yes he has been on the charts for nearly 20 years now), that has helped shape the style of popular rap music. The drive of Wayne to continue this influence is unfettered. However, it seems most people today think the man is just a joke from hip hop’s past. This is worrisome: someone so important to the music we listen to today, in the best way possible, has his reputation tarnished by memes. It is with this sentiment that I want to highlight how important Lil Wayne is for music.
If you think Lil Wayne is just an old guy who should just leave rap to the new talent, you are misinformed. The man is 36; that is only four years older than Drake. The reason he seems so old is because releasing music since he was a true child. He got signed by Birdman at THE AGE OF NINE and The Block is Hot came out when Lil Wayne was only 15 in 1999. The man was certified platinum before he could even drive. At 15 my biggest accomplishment was quitting World of Warcraft, and I only made that decision because I knew I sucked.
What is even more crazy is that what should have been his fifteen minutes of fame was just the start of fruitful and prolific career. Since the release of that album, he has created a total of 13 solo albums, at least 3 compilation albums, 20 mixtapes, and they are all legendary. Sorry for the Wait, a mixtape he dropped just because he wanted to fill the lull in between Rebirth and Tha Carter IV is just him rapping over other people’s beats, and each version is just as good, if not better than the original. He even remixed Adele. That mixtape has gotten me in the zone for nearly every exam I have taken in college. The consistency with which he releases music, and the standard of quality he sets for himself with every release is the kind of drive only seen in the chart toppers of today. People like Future, who are known for constantly releasing hits, are pulling directly from Wayne’s influence of just releasing all the time to keep yourself in people’s ears. Even when you weren’t listening, he was making music for the world, and this dedication is the kind needed to maintain king status.
If his dedication to rap is not enough to win you over, you should educate yourself on how Weezy has pushed rap culture in a punkier direction. When Kanye West released Graduation it was regarded as the “end of gangster rap” by completely overshadowing 50 Cent’s simultaneous album release. What people often forget is that Tha Carter III released that same year and if anything epitomizes PIMP music, it is that album. “A Milli” is an anthem. What Wayne was able to accomplish with that album was a shift in how gangster rap was viewed in America. It went from the big-bodied tough guy aesthetic of NWA and 50 to the skinny, face-tattooed aesthetic of Wayne and the rest of Young Money.
He rebranded gangster rap and made it punk culture. He then took this a step further and infused rap with skate-punk culture by dedicating his life to skateboarding, only rocking skinny jeans, and releasing a rock album. Regardless of what you think about the music, to see someone, project to project, completely change trajectory from a formula that would bring him success is what makes him such an admirable artist. I can only hope he continues to push himself in whichever direction life leads him.
Look, I could go on and on about Wayne’s influence on rap. He has turned a majority of songs he has been featured on in the past 20 years in to Weezy songs. His feature on Solange’s song “Mad” is as heart-on-your-sleeve as it is catchy, and he has even made Kid Rock tolerable, which is a huge accomplishment in my book. If you are going to get anything out of this, just understand the musicians you listen to today all look up to Lil Wayne, even if you don’t. He has created the flow changing, metaphor melting, and hype of modern hip hop. What is even more impressive is that with the recent release of Tha Carter V (all freestyled by the way), it is clear that Lil Wayne is going nowhere. To see the historical influencers continue to be movers and shakers is something that excites me. I can only hope he continues to step in the booth on a daily basis and let his mind flow. I’m in need of some more Weezy F baby and the F is for _____ in my life.