This Is the Last Day of A Year of Lil Wayne
In closing, some reflections on "Something You Forgot," the best Lil Wayne song.
Illustration by Michael Alcantara
Day 365: "Something You Forgot" – The Drought Is Over 2 (The Carter 3 Sessions), 2007
In the summer of 2007, a voice came on the radio announcing some much-anticipated news: The first single from Lil Wayne's next album, Tha Carter III, was here. I still remember the excitement as the sample kicked in. It was everything I loved in rap, especially at the time, a sped-up power ballad matched with simple, propulsive percussion. Lil Wayne tore into it, as anyone who had listened to anything he'd done recently could have anticipated. It was a devastating account of a lost relationship, a kind of confessional rap that Lil Wayne rarely practiced. This was it, I thought. It was a wrap. Tha Carter III was going to be a classic.
Then, there was silence. I never got an explanation. It was 2007, and we weren't saturated with information the way we are now. I knew that some of the songs that were supposed to be on Tha Carter III had leaked, but I didn't know what that song I'd heard was called. I couldn't wait to hear it again, but I never did. Some new Carter III singles came out, songs like "Lollipop" and "A Milli," and the album became its own narrative. Some people called it a classic because it sold so many copies, but others knew that it should have been better. We'd heard those lost singles. We might not know what they had been called, but we knew. They were out there.
Eventually, I found a link to the .zip file of the full Carter 3 Mixtape, i.e. the leaked sessions. And finally, after months of mystery, I had my answer. The song was called "Something You Forgot." It was instantly my favorite Lil Wayne song, for all the reasons outlined above. There was so much energy in his delivery. There was emotional complexity about relationships that I hadn't heard from Wayne before. "I fucked up, I know I fucked up, I admit I fucked up, but everybody fuck up"—Lil Wayne didn't rap things like that. But here he was describing domestic scenes in vivid detail and ripping his heart out with raw passion, betraying his usual unflappability. "You can't tell me you don't remember those nights," he rasps, and suddenly we're remembering nights of our own. The sample itself—from the hard rock legends Heart, a band I'd never heard of and have still never knowingly listened outside of this song—is about battling with emotions. It's gut-wrenching. It gets stuck in my head all the time, to this day.
And then there was a line that, to me, summed up all of Lil Wayne's brilliance as concisely as possible. In the midst of this song about total heartbreak and collapse, Wayne closes out his second verse by claiming, "what she means to me is what I mean to rap." On the surface, this line doesn't say much; it's kind of an unexpected logical leap. But then think about what Lil Wayne means to rap. Think about what he meant to rap in 2007, in the midst of his Best Rapper Alive public goodwill tour, when he was recording this song: everything, of course.
This throwaway ending to the verse, when you realize what he's saying, instantly intensifies the devastating emotions of the rest of the song. And, vice versa, the song's overall emotional weight intensifies the claim. You can hear the pain in Lil Wayne's voice; you know that this woman means everything to him. And by extension, you realize that he's sneaking in the most powerful rap boast he can make. It's a moment of complete personal collapse and utter victory intertwined as one. What more could you ask for from a rap song? That is the genre in a nutshell, finding triumph regardless of the circumstances. It is everything rap is, just like Lil Wayne.
Today is the last day of A Year of Lil Wayne. Over the last 365 days, Lil Wayne has continued to prove how much he means to rap, even as I've spent my time dithering over which Dedication freestyle to transcribe the lyrics to. Although he's languishing in legal limbo with Birdman over Tha Carter V, supposedly unable to move forward with his career, he's still been able to fascinate us and release great music and capture our attention. We've seen Lebron James reunite the Hot Boys at All-Star Weekend and Lil Wayne reunite his hit-making protegés Drake and Nicki Minaj to—what else—make more hits. Thanks to this blog, T-Pain released the long-lost T-Wayne collaborations, and, thanks to Playboi Carti, Lil Wayne returned to his long-lost tradition of just releasing new music for free online. Along the way, DJ Khaled used his patented Asahldchemy to help Lil Wayne land the number one song in the country. And, reader, that song is good, too.
There's a video of Lil Wayne doing the keynote interview at SXSW in 2014 in which an audience member asks a question about how to advance his music career and keep going despite feeling a lack of progress. Wayne answers, "you already said the first thing to do, and that's keep going." Like many of Wayne's interview answers, it's a bit of a platitude, but it's also one that Wayne is able to deliver with real conviction because his own career is material proof. If there is one thing that I've taken away from writing about Lil Wayne every day for a year, it's the value in perseverance for its own sake. Lil Wayne was always talented, but he became the artist he is through tireless repetition and endless practice. The reason he has been able to channel his talent into so many different artistic accomplishments is because over his career he just kept making stuff, even when sometimes it sucked.
More and more, I've come to inhabit that mindset in the course of writing about him (which, yes, to complete your own, is why this blog sucks). Wayne's process argues that you can't focus too much on the end result of your creative output; you're better off just making stuff and trusting that your (heh) dedication will lead to something worthwhile. Consider the fact that, at one point, Wayne recorded, in a single session, every line he had written down in his lyric notebook and released all "10,000 Bars" of it as a mixtape. For any other artist, that would be a career-defining feat, or at least a major part of their story. In Lil Wayne's case, I guarantee most of his fans have no idea it even happened because he went on to make "Go DJ" and "Fireman."
There are other things I've come to admire more than ever, of course. Lil Wayne provided a model of rebelliousness for a new generation; nobody else has been a rock star like him, although every rapper now wants to try. He's worked within the highest, most controlled levels of the music industry, but he's always bent the world around him to his liking. He is living proof that America's heroes can come from any background—and that being a hero doesn't have to mean assimilating to corporate culture. He is creative in a particularly rare and admirable way, particularly in our current era of Rap Genius-ing everything to death, which is that he is never ostentatious about his innovations and never bothers to pick them apart. Instead, he just tries to entertain himself, does what seems fun, and expects his listeners to be smart enough to understand why it's brilliant. It's a model more people should follow. Creativity at its best should feel like magic.
Maybe these statements all feel like platitudes, too. Just keep going, etc. I'm not sure that I know much more about Lil Wayne now, really, than I did when I started. The more I've written about Lil Wayne's music, the more its appeal becomes ineffable. That might be Wayne's greatest message: You're either going to like a song or you're not. You're either going to like him or you're not. Beyond the broad biographical strokes, he doesn't put himself in his music much in a personal way, and that's part of the lesson. Listen to the raps. Marvel at the wordplay. Focus on the craft. Wayne's appeal as an artist hinges on his persona, but the core of that persona is his singleminded devotion to making the best rap, over and over and over. And that's crazy. It's absolutely nuts to try to be the best at something that is technically impossible to perfect ("am I crazy for being Wayne or is Wayne just crazy?" he once asked). But the same could be said of karate or skateboarding or Zen Buddhist meditation or life itself.
On the first verse "Something You Forgot," Wayne laments, "God knows that I'd do anything for a part two." There's always an impulse, looking back on anything, to wonder what you could have done better, to imagine how you could fix things a second time around. But "Something You Forgot" is ultimately a rejection of that idea, too. You can dwell on the past, or you can keep making music. Just recording a song is forward progress. So in the third verse, Wayne shares his final takeaway, "I just hope you never forget me." With bars like these, how could we?
Kyle Kramer is done with A Year of Lil Wayne. Follow him on Twitter .