Day 325: "Fireman" – Tha Carter II, 2005
The first time I saw Lil Wayne on TV was on Wild N' Out in 2005. The historical record informs me that the episode in question featured Omarion as a guest improviser and that it aired July 28, which means that it was the summer before my senior year of high school. According to a message board thread, which is the only real documentation I can find of what happened on the show, Lil Wayne performed the song "Earthquake," but the song I remember is "Fireman." He was wearing a white Bape hoodie, and he looked like a total pipsqueak; when they said he'd been famous since he was 17 (a line I distinctly remember, being just shy of 17 myself), it seemed plausible that the history they were referring to was only a year or two old.
I also remember not being that impressed: This is the guy that people are saying is the best rapper alive? I was used to Wu-Tang Clan and Common; Lil Wayne's mic skills didn't impress me much. And yet, I found that hook reverberating in my head for months. I didn't have the music; the song wasn't even out yet. When the album finally did come out, the song that grabbed my attention first was "Money on My Mind." But then there was "Fireman," a hit if I'd ever heard one. In the years that followed, it became my go-to at parties or in conversations about Lil Wayne. Oh, you heard "Make It Rain" and think he's a one-hit wonder? Try "Fireman." You think Wayne only spits fire on mixtape tracks? Let's listen to "Fireman."
"Fireman" has not fared well in the historical pantheon of Wayne hits. Just the other day, a friend responded on Twitter to my post about "Money on My Mind" claiming that that song was superior to the single, "Fireman." While, because I had been introduced to it on TV, I assumed that "Fireman" was the biggest Lil Wayne single since "Bling Bling," "Go DJ" charted substantially higher. But for me, it has been a lodestone in my Lil Wayne fandom over the years, a place I can always return to. In college, "Fireman" was a key part of a pump-up mix that also included Rihanna's "Umbrella" and Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town." At house parties, it was always a reliable way to get people into a room to yell along. Even as I continue to consider that other Lil Wayne songs might be the best Lil Wayne songs, "Fireman" is always, in some respects, going to be the best Lil Wayne song.
It's still, to this day, one of his most electrifying singles. To me, "Fireman" stands out for the sheer number of moments Wayne seems to have crafted as quotables. Some fans might find that Wayne's flow is a little too pop here compared to the free-associative chaos of his most virtuosic performances, but I think there's a lot to be said for landing so many memorable punchlines. After all, that's what sticks on a pop song. Those pocket quotables—"toss you like a fruit salad / strawberry grape ya"; "ridin' by myself well really not really / so heavy in the trunk make the car pop a wheelie"; "quick draw McGraw, I went to art school"; "money too long, teachers put away your rulers"; etc.—are the kinds of lines that stick with you, the kinds that JAY-Z and Kanye excel at and extol the virtues of. Wayne, a scholar of Jay, knew that, of course. I'm not sure there's anywhere else in his singles that hits the balance of "impressive rap bar punchline" and "easily memorable phrase" quite so many times.
"Fireman" has so many of them that a few even ended up returning in Wayne's career. The phrase "where the cash at," from the line "you see my girl's legs open better smash that / don't be surprised if she ask where the cash at" became the hook of Curren$y's hit "Where Da Cash At" a year later. The triumphant declaration, "Cash Money Records, baby, where dreams come true" popped up again a couple years later on "I'm Me." And there are other themes you can probably find laced through as well: "I see she wearing them jeans that show her butt crack / my girls can't wear that—why? that's where my stash at" is a recurring lyrical theme for Wayne even if the exact words don't appear again. I love this aspect of the song. I love the beat; I think the hook kicks ass; but at the end of the day, I love that Wayne made everything sound so cool here. Just look at the density of the opening bars, and then we can move on to a new topic:
Ain't nobody fuckin' with me, man
He-man, ski mask, spendin' next week's cash, he fast
And I don't even need a G pass, I'm past that
I'm passin' 'em out now, and you can't have that
"Fireman" is a song that captures all of Lil Wayne's appeal, from his whip-smart jokes to his instincts for memorable phrases to his sensibility for hooks. It covers, like, every one of his go-to lyrical topics, from girls to street credibility to his recently completed stint in college to his weaponry to his skills on the mic. No wonder I keep coming back to it; no wonder he keeps coming back to it. And that's another part of his appeal: One reason, I think, why we are so impressed with Lil Wayne is that he is one of the few artists we have seen steadily improve despite being in the public eye since a very young age. This is a reason, too, I suspect, why Wayne always had an affinity for Drake: He saw in Drake whatever drive it was that he had that pushed him to just keep getting better even when he was already pretty famous and successful.
"Fireman" was a moment of Wayne taking a victory lap for his past successes, his celebration of a triumphant return to rap's forefront with "Go DJ." And it was a statement of intent for the years to come. You can chart a lot of Wayne's history—and, by extension, your own history—with this song. I, for one, found its promise to be true: I left a lot of the ensuing years up to Weezy, baby, I let it steam and brew, and here I am, more than a decade later, more of a fan than ever.
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