Day 322: "Feel Me" – Tha Carter II, 2005
"They got the shivers, man, I got the fever / I gotta bring the hood back after Katrina / Weezy F Baby, now the F is for FEMA."
Hurricane Katrina changed America, and it changed Lil Wayne's career. By 2005, he was living primarily in Miami, but he was still undeniably a New Orleans artist, and there was no way that Tha Carter II, released three months after Katrina, wouldn't be viewed as a commentary on the storm. Since it was almost entirely recorded before the storm, it barely addressed current events—that would mostly come later, on songs like "Georgia… Bush" and "Tie My Hands." Wayne's role at first was more symbolic: Even as New Orleans the city was quite literally drowning, the best rapper alive was rising from the chaos. Even as the people caught in the path of the storm felt the neglect of the government, Lil Wayne was speaking, as he says here, for them. An interlocutor asks, "so, is your music considered the voice of urban America or America period?" Wayne replies, "I mean, I would say the voice of the hood, 'cause that's who I speak for."
Wayne wasn't hit too hard personally by the storm. He had already relocated to Miami, and, in fact, he was doing the interview for his XXL cover story in Florida the day Katrina hit New Orleans. An insert in that story noted that his family was safe, although his mother's newly built house was destroyed, and both Baby's house and the Cash Money headquarters were totally flooded (it also noted that he planned to donate a dollar per sale of the album to hurricane relief, although I haven't been able to find any more about that). Cash Money ended up moving to Miami permanently.
That move may have actually helped Lil Wayne's career by exposing him to a wider audience and getting him out of the regional box that he risked being trapped in. It almost certainly gave a boost to the local music industry, which exploded in the next few years via DJ Khaled and Rick Ross. But all that came at the expense of what Wayne's superstardom might have done for New Orleans had he stayed in the city (on the other hand, Wayne has spent so much time on the road, it's hard to say if he would have been around anyway; he said in 2006 that he planned to spend "80 percent" of his time in New Orleans going forward). Unlike the way that, say, his protegé Drake has helped birth an entire movement of music in Toronto, Wayne has spent very little of his time championing the next wave of New Orleans culture. There hasn't been a breakout superstar from the city since Wayne himself.
Fortunately, the last few years have seen something of an attempt to course correct, with the launch of his Lil Weezyana Fest. And that period has coincided with a renaissance of the city's image in pop music at large. I recently watched Solange and Frank Ocean perform back to back: The latter was displaced from New Orleans after Katrina, while the former moved there in 2013, prompting a wave of young black creatives to do the same. Seeing them, I was prompted to think about the effects of Katrina on American pop music; it doesn't seem like a coincidence that one of the defining rappers of our era is a New Orleans artist whose career exploded in the wake of Katrina, even if many people might be more likely to see Lil Wayne as being from Mars. At the same time, what would it look like if Katrina hadn't happened? What kind of star might Lil Wayne have become instead? What kind of star might America have looked for instead?
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