Lil Wayne’s seemingly eternal feud with Birdman over money owed to him has being going on for so long that it has, in many ways, overshadowed Wayne’s greatness as a rapper and influencer. And considering the sheer productivity Wayne has displayed throughout the course of his career, having a legal dispute with a boss-slash-family member be more relevant than his music is indicative of how taxing that fight has been.
In 2014, Lil Wayne filed a $51 million suit against Birdman for unpaid advances and money owed to him and his Young Money roster. That same year, Wayne turned in the completed version of his long-awaited (now teetering on irrelevant) Tha Carter V album which he was not paid an advance nor given a release date for. The lawsuit was a confirmation of rumors circulating online that the two had been at odds for some time. Because of these legal issues, Wayne hasn’t been able to drop any solo music on streaming platforms. His last release, Dedication 6, which showed that he still has flashes of flawless rapping in him, was exclusively streamed through pioneering mixtape host site DatPiff—a heartbreakingly sad set of circumstances for an artist who has arguably shaped the look and sound of his successive generation more than anyone in rap history.
Today, a questionable report surfaced which alleged that Wayne finally reached some sort of settlement with Birdman, who had been (unconvincingly) promising everything would work out fine over the past year. The terms of the settlement have not been officially released but assuming that Wayne’s wishes were granted, he should be free of any contractual obligations to Cash Money Records very soon, which means he is free to finally release his thirteenth studio album. When the news broke this morning, fans celebrated that Tha Carter V would finally see the light of day. But given all that has happened since Wayne turned it in four years ago, it wouldn’t serve much good—outside of catering to fans’ nostalgia—for a 35-year-old man whose personal and business complications have been broadcasted to the public to just omit all the space in between.
One of the highlights of Solange’s spirit-feeding A Seat at the Table album was the moment when Lil Wayne popped up on “Mad”—a song about exercising the right to express justified rage—to talk about his issues with Birdman, a previously-unknown attempt at suicide, and the burden of celebrity. The verse was arguably one of Wayne’s most candid. And it isn’t necessarily an easy listen. There is tangible urgency in his convictions when he raps:
“It’s hard when you only got fans around and no fam around
And when they are then they hands is out /
And they pointing fingers, when I wear this fuckin’ burden on my back like a motherfuckin’ cap and gown.”
Wayne ended that verse talking about past urges to end his own life but it was weirdly refreshing. There was a feeling that he’d let that pain go, which is why he was even able to share it with the world. It’s unlikely that this is the crux of Tha Carter V and in rap’s current climate of our aging heroes giving us more insight into their emotional journeys, it’d surely do the world good to get the privilege to know what Wayne’s trials, missteps, and victories have been since having a way-too-public falling out with a person who helped raise him.
This wouldn’t be completely new territory for Wayne. Yes, our most beloved moments from him are his uncanny ability to make words do acrobatics while he talks about his drugs of choice, his prowess over fellow rappers, and his gift for cunnilingus. But there’s an argument for Wayne’s most special moments being his most vulnerable and personal. As a 17-year-old, he gave us “Fuck The World,” which went deep into the pressures of being a teenage father and the newly-appointed primary caretaker of his family. Tha Carter’s “I Miss My Dawgs” was a cry out for his estranged Hot Boyz group. It was stocked with stories about going from nothing-to-superstardom in New Orleans that only he, BG, Juvenile, and Turk could understand fully, though it felt special to get a front seat for such an intimate gesture. On 2006’s “Georgia Bush,” he directed seething lines to the US presidency over the catastrophes caused by Hurricane Katrina in his hometown (“The white people smiling like everything cool / But I know people that died in that pool/ I know people that died in them schools”).
People would like to believe that a tide turned for rap elder statesmen when Jay-Z released 4:44 and talked about cheating on his wife, potentially letting his children down, and going to therapy. Since then, artists like J. Cole have released their most mature projects to date, talking about the struggles of watching his mother struggle with alcoholism on K.O.D. Most recently, Kanye West used the cover of his new ye album to share that he struggles with bipolar disorder. But a more vulnerable effort by Lil Wayne has a greater potential of touching more than “mature” rap audiences.
Lil Wayne is the template for the modern rap star. When he covered his body in tattoos, his peers and idolizers followed. When he became more unapologetic in his codeine usage, kids followed. When he diversified his tool box with auto tune raps, everyone on Earth followed. And given those pieces of knowledge, it’s more likely that an artist like Wayne who has opened up about struggling with substance abuse, suicidal thoughts (like many of rap’s current generation), and dead-ended label deals would be the one that people listen to. And more importantly, by doing so he’ll hopefully be able to let even more hurt go than he did when he floated over Solange’s “Mad.” And to get that, we don’t need Tha Carter series Wayne. We need 2018’s, newly liberated, almost 36-year-old Wayne.
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