This article originally appeared on Noisey US.
Day 358: "Me and My Drank" – leak, 2008
It's hard to stress now how certain everyone was in 2008 that Lil Wayne was going to kill himself with drugs. At the end of 2007, Pimp C had died due to complications from sleep apnea and prescription cough syrup, and Lil Wayne, the drug's most famous advocate, seemed headed for a similar fate. As much as Lil Wayne's lyrical dominance and mixtape prowess was generating attention, his behaviour was also creating concern. At times, he was only too happy to fuel the narrative himself, as on the song "I Feel Like Dying," or its companion, "Me and My Drank," which explicitly lashes out at those trying to control his addiction. "Right now it feels like the whole world is against me / ever since the death of Pimp C," Wayne howls.
Ben Westhoff notes in the book Dirty South, discussing Wayne's run between Carters II and III, that besides the leaks, "the second story line was that he had lost control of himself, and was about to die." Westhoff rattles off a list of magazines Wayne covered and notes that "almost every article talked about how he was killing himself." In particular, he highlights a Vibe cover story from 2008 that wondered whether Wayne was destined to follow in the footsteps of Jimi Hendrix and 2Pac and included a two-page spread about syrup. "Does Lil Wayne love himself enough to manage not to slowly kill himself for you?" author Benjamin Meadows-Ingram asked at the end of the article, leaving the question unanswered.
"Everybody wants me to stop all this and all that. It ain't that easy," Wayne told MTV News earlier that year, adding that the pain of withdrawal would be intense and questioning why everyone was so concerned:
You gotta learn how to stop, you gotta go through detox. You gotta do all kinds of stuff. Like I said, I'm a selfish-ass nigga. I feel like everything I do is successful and productive. It's gonna be hard to tell me I'm slipping. It's hard to sit and tell a nigga 'Stop.' 'Fuck, how can we tell this nigga to stop when every fucking thing he do is successful? This nigga is making progress. He just went and talked to kids and that shit was amazing.' Feel me? So what am I doing wrong?
Let me do me. Everybody's got their thing. Why focus on me? Don't compare me to no one. Don't compare me to no one who has passed, and why they passed. I can walk out this bitch right now and get hit by a bus. Don't judge me. You wanna judge me, put on a black gown and get a gavel. Get in line with the rest of them that's about to judge me. I got court dates every other month. It's me against the world – that's how I feel.
He reflects that same sort of nihilist attitude on "Me and My Drank," which pays homage to rap's previous syrup casualties: "I sip that Big Moe, I drink that Pimp C / rest in peace Big Moe, rest in peace Pimp C / and fuck what they say / Mr. DJ Screw I'ma do this for you." But he also backs up the statement that it was hard to tell him to stop when everything he did was successful. Sure, he might have been drowning in the depths of opiate addiction here, and there's nothing admirable about that, but he also quietly invented the new sound of music about the topic.
While syrup's place in music before had been in the screwed down vocals he pays tribute to in the song, Wayne imagines the drug's sound as one of dissociative Auto-Tune wailing. It's a sound he was already exploring in other contexts, but nowhere does he lean more into its depressive depths than here. And it sounds beautiful, as terrifying as the subject matter may be.
These days, prescription cough syrup is a common accessory in music. Tortured Auto-Tune crooning about the drug basically spawned Future's 2014-2015 renaissance – think "Codeine Crazy" – and that template has gone on to inform an entire generation of new artists. When you imagine syrup musically now, you hear a type of woozy, melodic howling: i.e. the sound that Lil Wayne invented right here. Like Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison, Wayne ended up profoundly influencing the sound of future generations of artists in his 26th year. But unlike them, he made it out, escaping the 27 Club and going on to explore new sounds.
That doesn't mean that Wayne hasn't courted death at the hands of drugs in the years since: In 2013, he suffered a series of seizures that were apparently syrup-induced, and TMZ reported that he was on his deathbed, sending the entire music world into a panic for several hours. But Lil Wayne defied death yet again, and the story continues. If anything, the only lesson rap has learned from the whole ordeal is that there's no cooler way to say you just poured a four of lean than by singing it in Auto-Tune. I'm not sure if that's good for society – actually, it almost certainly isn't – but it has given us a ton of incredible music.
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