In the winter of 2005 as a sophomore in high school, I scraped up the vestiges of my weed and snack profits and left third period AP literature for the record store. NIKKI’S MUSIC, 11701 Buckeye Road in Cleveland, Ohio—a well-known mom and pop start-up with a collection diverse enough to put Best Buy to shame. The senior girl who I was dating at the time spun the block in her late-90’s Nissan Maxima—the aroma of old worn leather mixing with the steak, egg, and cheese bagel I was munching on as the soothing heat from the vents cut through the cold air. I looked up from my sustenance to peer through the passenger window and to my surprise—Nikki’s was bunkin’ like a dope spot. Young men and women, teenagers, and adults alike dipped in and out of the store like they were giving away a chicken dinner with every CD.
There wasn’t a free lunch though, the Carter II had just dropped.
I bought my little piece of gold distributed by Cash Money Records and played it into the ground. I burned the CD up—literally and figuratively, even ripping it to my newly acquired iPod that I permanently borrowed from a careless white kid.
Fuck him, he could afford another one—and he was an asshole anyway.
Nevertheless, I let the vibrations of Wayne’s sonic paintbrush carry me through a journey in my soul. The braggadocios flow coupled with profound instrumentals and precise lyricism lit a fire in my spirit. I think that for the first time in my life, I was experiencing true relatability as a consumer of music. See during that era, I was scratching the surface of my entrepreneurial spirit by distributing three products that my fellow teenagers couldn’t resist—weed, snacks, and porn. I remember being posted up in my spot, wearing big ass jeans and a Carhart jacket, iPod jacket into my ears blasting “Money on my Mind.”
Before I knew it, a cultural shift started to take place in front of my eyes. Those big ass jeans and loose polo shirts turned into European cuts and Ed Hardy. Long-sleeved undershirts, marked with faux-tattoo in a paisley pattern started to pop up under V-neck white tees. Niggas traded in Nike’s for Ice Creams and flea market BAPE knockoffs. Middle-of-the-mall jewels changed from fake platinum to imitation colored diamond herringbones and wristbands. Then they started to grow locs, then everybody wanted fully-inked bodies, then everyone had wallet chains and dark, square sunglasses.
And it didn’t stop.
Wayne’s ability to inspire grew as his music did. By college, there was an influx in lip and eye rings in black men. Tattoos everywhere, crazy outfits, and white Styrofoam cups. But fuck the cultural influence—that comes second to his unprecedented musical impact.
Lil Wayne is arguably the most diverse artist to ever pick up the microphone in Hip-Hop. He can tear you shreds lyrically, catch his cadence on any beat, croon out an auto-tune hook, and perform as the lead of a rock song on the same fucking album. He’s so good at rapping about nothing, stringing together brilliant punchlines and metaphors for the sake of it—that when he takes time to focus on a subject, he’s nearly untouchable.
Wayne reinvented himself so many times and in so many ways that if you look hard enough you can see his imprint everywhere. Without Lil’ Wayne, there are no “weirdo rappers.” There is no Young Thug. There is no XXX or Lil Uzi or Lil Pump or any of these colored-haired kids with face tattoos addicted to hard drugs running around from studio to studio. Wayne was the first to have 100+ features in a one-year span, way before 2Chainz (who cited Wayne as one of his biggest influences and closest friends.) Wayne created and perfected the art of dropping dope mixtapes in succession, flooding the streets with music way before Gucci and Future adopted the practice of releasing six or seven tapes in a year. His work ethic elevated artists, you can hear pieces of his flow in Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole, he gave us two superstars in Drake and Nicki, and he did all of this as Baby and Slim tried to fucking sabotage him.
Between 2004 and 2010, nobody was better than Wayne. Only Lupe, Tip, Kanye, Hov, and Jeezy held a torch to Carter—and even still they all came in second place. We have yet to see another run like that in music, and I don’t think we ever will. Wayne is a once in a generation type artist, the type of guy you tell stories about a decade from now. He’s attributed for introducing white kids worldwide to hip-hop, we’ve been listening to him for 20+ years, and he’s only 36.
Thanks for the memories, Weezy. Happy C5.
From the We$t End with Love,