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A Year of Lil Wayne: Cash Money and Roc-A-Fella Millionaires

Over the weekend, Wayne shouted out his allegiance to Roc-a-Fella, but it was just the latest installment in a long-standing saga.

Day 59: "I'm Me" –  The Leak EP , 2007

If we were living in Hillary's America and the country weren't melting down in post-election fury right now, this would be a great week for Lil Wayne conversation—thanks Trump, for taking even the reliable pleasure of pointless rap discussions away from us. Over the weekend at Camp Flog Gnaw in Los Angeles, during a performance of "I'm Me"—which, whoa, that's tight that this song is in his live set in 2016—Lil Wayne seemed to pledge his allegiance to Roc-a-Fella Records, Jay Z's label. The song's hook normally goes "I'm a motherfucking Cash Money millionaire," but Wayne rapped "I'm a motherfucking R-O-C millionaire," followed by "I'm a motherfucking Roc-a-Fella millionaire," prompting immediate speculation that Wayne had some sort of new label arrangement in the works. Realistically, it seems unlikely that there will be resolution to Wayne's Cash Money woes any time soon, as Birdman seems intent on holding up legal proceedings with endless paperwork, but there is an arrangement between Wayne and Jay: Jay reportedly brought Wayne in as a co-owner on TIDAL, and last year's Free Weezy Album (FWA) continues to exist as an exclusive to the platform.

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Wayne's relationship with Jay Z over the years is obviously a complicated one. It's always been clear he idolizes Jay and that he is eager to be placed into the same lyrical lineage as Jay, alongside Biggie and 'Pac. Even though the two have been rapping for about the same amount of time, Jay is a decade older and has always received more mainstream accolades, so he's a clear figure for Wayne to look up to. They were also rivals: At one point Wayne rapped over Jay's "Show Me What You Got" (from the post-retirement nadir of Jay's career), "I must be Lebron if he's Jordan." Soon after, Jay would rap on "Mr. Carter" that the younger Mr. Carter was his "heir."

Going back a little further, Wayne briefly considered signing to Roc-a-Fella in the mid-2000s, as he discusses on his "Down and Out" freestyle and a skit called "Wayne Explains His Deal" from The Dedication. On there, he says that he was ready to break his contract with Cash Money and that Jay was trying to help him until way more money came in from an offer from Universal's ("I couldn't even understand what they were talking about because they was talking millions and stuff. That was words I'd never heard of."). Earlier this year, Wayne went on DJ Drama's Sirius XM radio show and told the full story of Jay trying to sign him that first time. It's a funny story that I recommend watching Wayne tell in full below, but the gist is that Wayne went to meet Jay during the day at the 40/40 Club, where Jay was hanging out with Derek Jeter and Denzel Washington ("I was like, this is his clique?" Wayne laughs in the video), and Jay offered him $175,000. Wayne quips that two of his teeth were worth that much. The deal fell through.

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In the years after, he went on to reiterate his devotion to Cash Money over and over—including on "I'm Me," where he says, in a dark anti-prophecy, "It's obvious that he'll be Cash Money 'til the death of him" and discusses his close ties to Slim and Birdman. The song was supposedly set to be the intro to Tha Carter III until it leaked (it eventually came out officially on the album's companion EP, The Leak), and basically the whole thing is about his allegiance to his label. He repeats his line from "Fireman" about "Cash Money Records, where dreams come true." This is one of the reasons that it makes an odd choice for his present-day set, the other being of course that he has dozens of better-known singles. On the other hand, Wayne's core fans idolize songs like "I'm Me" because it's from the 2007 heyday, where he would just rap lights out and hardly pause for a hook. And damn, what rapping.

"I'm Me" has one of the absolute best opening lines of any Wayne song, where he walks in matter-of-factly and announces, "Un-fucking-believable, Lil Wayne's the president / fuck em, fuck em, fuck em, even if they celibate." Imagine that being the rhyme that opened up an album! Alas, leaks. But also: hell yeah, leaks. Speaking of which, it also has one of his better extended shitting metaphors, which is saying something. He raps, "The only time I will depend / is when I'm 70 years old / that's when I can't hold my shit within / so I shit on myself / 'cause I'm so sick and tired / of shitting on everybody else."

While things have obviously changed about other parts of the song, and Wayne is back on the pro-Roc side, I imagine that part holds truer than ever. If Wayne's label situation continues to be an object of fascination, it's surely in part because it feels like such a crime to keep him sequestered away when he should be out there shitting on the competition. One of the funniest details of this song that only just sunk in for me listening to it today is that part of the hook goes "I know it's not fair," which is to say he knows it's not fair that he is who he is and that he's a Cash Money millionaire. That line takes on an odd new significance in the current situation—it's not fair that he's stuck on Cash Money precisely because it's not fair how much better he is than everyone else. I do hope that Wayne and Jay's label partnership pans out and that we see some more Carter track pairings (what if Tha Carter V were the new Watch the Throne???). No matter what label he's on, though, he's him, and holy fuck is he good.

Photo: Screenshot of Wayne on DJ Drama's show via YouTube

Follow Kyle Kramer on Twitter.