Day 76: "Dec. 4" – The Prefix , 2004
Today, December 4, is Jay Z's birthday. Happy birthday Jay! Naturally, this date opens up a whole can of worms for talking about Lil Wayne. As we've discussed here before on more than one occasion, the two of them have a long and complicated relationship, which vacillates between idol worship, friendly rivalry, not-so-friendly rivalry, regular friendliness, and mutually beneficial business arrangements. To me, the words Jay Z in the context of Lil Wayne still mostly call to mind Wayne rapping "I must be Lebron if he's Jordan" over Jay's "Show Me What You Got" beat, effectively snatching rap's throne from the elder Mr. Carter. But it would be disrespectful to talk about that on Jay's birthday, and, besides, that's not the only Jay song Wayne has rapped over.
A more curious phase of the Jay Z and Wayne relationship centers around a mixtape called The Prefix, released in 2004, on the heels of Jay announcing his plans to retire with The Black Album. On it, Wayne raps over the majority of the Black Album tracks, which can be credibly read as homage or challenge. At this time Jay is departing as the undisputed king of rap, 50 Cent and Eminem's current commercial chokehold notwithstanding, and Wayne is basically still a regional star with a hot song called "Go DJ" and a long-established respect of Jay. He also has a budding penchant for murdering Jay on his own beats, which, well, you might argue he does that here, although I find it hard to claim that Jay Z didn't do this beat about as dirty as one can.
So let's view this as an homage to Jay: After all, not only is it his birthday but also Wayne takes a cue from Jay, whose original version of the song is one of the clearest memoirs across his discography, complete with voiceovers from his mom about how much he weighed as a baby and how he used to bang out beats on the kitchen table.
Accordingly, Wayne gets autobiographical in a way we don't often see, talking about the passing of his stepfather, Rabbit, and, in a rarer move yet, addressing his relationship with his mother. He paints her ability to inspire him, rapping, "All of the things go to my mama cause she brought me in this / ever since I never miss I never called in sick / I go to work I don't quit mama taught me this." The second verse is framed around Rabbit's death prompting Wayne to go hustle, and the third verse ends with him recounting explicitly the effect it had: "Remember when the bullet caught lil bro / who you think got that blood up off that flo' / who you think make that boy come off so cold / how you think that young boy come off so old?"
Like Jay—once again, suggesting this song is best treated as homage—Wayne uses these facts to self-mythologize, creating a backdrop for his own talents, which he lays out quite convincingly near the end of the song: "It's Weezy F and the F is for flow / I spit blood on the track / call me dracula though."
Jay Z is easy to clown now that he's older and less in touch, but Jay's enduring effect doesn't just have to do with his persona or his catalog: Crucial to his legacy is that he built rap in his image. Along with Lil Wayne, Jay obviously deeply influenced Kanye (in fact, Jay literally gave him his break) and Drake, who are inarguably the three most important rappers of the generation that followed him (yes, loosely, as Wayne and Jay have been rapping equally long), as well as the three rappers who have probably done the most, besides Jay, to push hip-hop into mainstream culture. So let's appreciate this homage from Wayne, wish Jay a happy birthday, and thank him for everything he's inspired.
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