Lil Wayne doesn’t take compliments too well. That much is apparent when you attempt to congratulate the hip-hop enigma on racking up his fifth top 10 debut on Billboard’s Hot 100 with his current single—the strutting darkly tinted Drake —featured song “She Will.” You then unknowingly add more proverbial fuel to fire by mentioning that the impressive feat puts him ahead of his three biggest peers in the current rap landscape: Eminem, Kanye West and Jay- Z. Wayne is not impressed.
“There’s no competition [with any artists],” he asserts in a perturbed tone after a VIBE cover photo shoot in Miami. “Music isn’t about competition no more. All the gangster rappers are happy. All the skateboard rappers are happy, all the white rappers are happy…Everybody just happy to do music these days. There are no problems,” he adds. “That shit died a long time ago with them old-ass rappers. We are just making music, making money and having fun-feeding our families. Competition is for the old guys.”
Such a hairpin response trigger response is not merely moody—rapper theatrics; it’s the contradictory, if elusive, ramblings of the “best rapper alive.” In late August, tracks for the goblin’s much-anticipated album The Carter IV leaked, drowning the blogosphere in Carter curiosity. One particular cut, “It’s Good,” ignited a frenzy of HOLY SHITS and other Cap-lock catharsis. The song will go down as Wayne’s first official salvo at Mr. Shawn Carter with the brutal line, “I got your baby money/ Kidnap your bitch, get that how- much-you-love-your-lady-money.”
Wayne’s jab comes off as a counter- punch to Jay- Z’s slap at Wayne and/or his mentor, Bryan “Baby” Williams on “H.A.M.,” on which Jigga raps, “Really you got baby money…You ain’t got my lady’ s money.” Of course, the inevitable debate followed: Is Wayne built to go toe-to-toe with the old guy? Was he really going at Mrs. Carter? Does Jay- Z have another “Takeover” left in his rhyme reservoir? Or is he in for another “Ether”?
Despite his blatant on-record diss, the Young Money label head is cryptic when the subject of jay- Z comes up. Wayne is more interested in discussing the inspiration behind his cover shoot: homage to the ultimate guitar god Jimi Hendrix. It’s all there-the badass black hat; a “Purple Haze” era Technicolor military jacket; black leather pants; and Jimi’s signature orange, black and white Fender Stratocaster. “Jimi’s just one of my favorite artists,” says Wayne, who a few years ago decided to pick up the guitar himself. “Everything Jimi stood for, I believe in.”
The irony of Wayne channeling the spirit of the late ax-wielding genius instantly hits you. There was a time when an unstable Lil Wayne was on a watch list for the next in line to join the Hendrix-led “Forever 27 Club,” a crew of deceased musicians (its most recent inductee, Amy Winehouse) who partied way too hard and left behind sad fans and beautiful corpses. An overdose from too much codeine-laced purple drink seemed highly plausible at one point.
However, at 28 years old, Dwayne Michael Carter has sidestepped such a morbid destiny. An eight- month prison stint from a 2007 gun possession charge seemed to have made the relentless MC more focused. At press time, Lil Wayne-who was finishing up his sold-out I Am Still Music tour—has taken in $15 million in 2011, according to Forbes. The music mogul who guided both Drake and Nicki Minaj to platinum stardom is a studio rat that has no interest in fronting the obligatory fashion line or staging a Hollywood takeover. In fact, he shrugs off any Tupac-style big-screen dreams. “I’m wealthy enough,” he says. “I don’t really dip into nothing that really ain’t my field, because that’s when you start looking crazy and doing stupid things.
”For Wayne the choice is clear: music or death. –Keith Murphy