Lil Wayne finally did it. Freed at last from red tape, industry woes, and the whims of Cash Money Records’ mercurial co-founder Birdman, Tha Carter V dropped this past Friday (Sept. 28) to the delight of the New Orleans native’s long-suffering fanbase. With 23 songs and features by Nicki Minaj, Snoop Dogg, and Travis Scott, among others, the fifth volume in Weezy’s beloved and respected series of full-lengths is already on its way to an assured debut atop the Billboard 200 album charts.
His ties as an artist to Cash Money are now formally severed, with his Young Money imprint apparently fully separated as a standalone unit for any future releases and new business, though still benefiting from a distribution arrangement with Universal Music Group’s Republic Records arm. But now that Tha Carter V has made its way into the world and onto everyone’s favorite streaming music platforms, a question arises about Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. that we haven’t needed to ask in years—what’s next?
Before diving into his prospects, it’s worth examining Wayne’s accomplishments to date. Actively recording since the 1990s, the majority of his commercially released projects have earned at least gold certification from the RIAA, the most recent of which being I Am Not A Human Being II. His two biggest album awards went to the third and fourth installments of Tha Carter series, which went triple-platinum and double-platinum, respectively. Soon to be his fourth No. 1 charting solo album, Tha Carter V should reach RIAA gold eligibility within the first two weeks of its release.
Following the ultimately platinum certified loosie “Believe Me,” Wayne soldiered through the five years separating his last two proper albums as a reliable feature artist, on hits by or with DJ Khaled, Kodak Black, and Wiz Khalifa. Those latter day wins contributed to an overall total of 143 appearances in a lead or guest capacity on the Hot 100, including the 2000 Hot Boys single “I Need A Hot Girl” and a handful of posse cuts credited to Young Money. And thanks to the way Billboard currently takes streaming into account, that number will grow considerably when the chart refreshes next week to reflect most if not all of Tha Carter V’s tracks.
All of this indicates that Wayne has a healthy career ahead as a recording artist, should he opt to pursue one. Having lost none of his commercial luster at the age of 36, his contemporary resurgence with Tha Carter V demonstrates undeniably that rap’s listenership still desires to hear him spit his witty and boisterous bars after more than two decades. Assuming any lingering rumors of this album being his curtain call prove false, he can assume his rightful place once again among the genre’s active elite.
How the next phase of Wayne’s rap career will manifest remains unknown and, for the first time in quite a while, exciting. Tha Carter V clearly contained material produced over a range of years, its somewhat eclectic final tracklist the natural byproduct of release date delays and the shifting preferences of hip-hop fans both old and new. His apparently daily studio sessions allowed him to amass a veritable vault’s worth of unreleased recordings, now the stuff of legend in music lore. Teeming with enough content to launch the kind of relentless bombardment campaign that would make Gucci Mane blush, these archives provide a wellspring of release possibilities.
Were he so inclined, Wayne could easily drop Tha Carter VI this coming Friday and send it straight to the top of the charts, repeating what Future did with his back-to-back Future and Hndrxx albums in 2017. That would certainly be a boss move for the second Young Money Records release in his post-Cash Money discography, even if he waited a few months to put it out instead. Provided he has the necessary rights, a wide release for the previously Tidal-only Free Weezy Album seems a logical option too, seeing as the unsanctioned 2015 project reached such a small audience that it didn’t even crack the Billboard 200.
Still, it might suit Wayne better to look forward rather than backward, lest he misuse his font of goodwill to flood the market with tracks deemed moldy oldies. The comeback success of Tha Carter V coupled with his liberation from old record deals means he’ll be able to work with just about any artist or producer he chooses, both within and outside of hip-hop. With the newfound ability to determine for himself what he does or doesn’t release, the opportunities for his next projects abound. A third edition of I Am Not A Human Being, a second helping of the 2 Chainz joint effort ColleGrove, more Mixtape Weezy business, all of these appear viable. Yet the best route of all could simply be a new one altogether, to use this moment to make a clean break with his existing franchises and focus on building a fresh musical narrative.
At the same time, Wayne is poised to capitalize on that lengthy discography by going on tour in 2019. Ostensibly billed as a support run for Tha Carter V, this already announced concert series coming right after reconnecting officially with generations of his fans stands to earn him a substantial payout. He’s got the refreshed clout to headline arenas nationwide once again, with many markets overdue for such a show. With the right support acts in tow, perhaps some younger talents in the game, sellout dates seem certain. Despite the widening pool of potential openers, Wayne could stun us all by linking with Nicki Minaj for a co-headlining run following her canceled autumn North American shows with Future. No matter who he takes with him on the road, he shrewdly included ticket presale access and digital album bundles with all purchases made via his album-specific merchandise site, boosting both his sales and his mailing list ahead of time.
Naturally, Wayne knows there are more ways to make money right now as a rapper than through rapping. International brands actively and increasingly seek out partnerships with urban artists, and he’s no exception. Having worked previously with consumer electronics companies such as Samsung and Beats By Dre, he has experience as a spokesman and product ambassador that can translate well to other fields. While the TrukFit brand could use a refresh, Wayne may find it more lucrative to work with another company in the apparel industry, lending his streetwear savvy and skate culture bonafides not unlike what he once did with Supra and what Kanye West has done with Adidas. And as diversifying entrepreneurs like JAY-Z and Young Jeezy have proven, multiple industries and investments can enrich a rapper’s portfolio.
Assuming any lingering rumors of Tha Carter V being his curtain call prove false, Lil Wayne can assume his rightful place once again among the genre’s active elite.
Then, of course, there’s the Young Money brand to take into account. No longer beholden to the 51-49 arrangement with Cash Money, Wayne now commands its future with Tez Bryant and Mack Maine. He already had brand extensions in place prior to this year’s legal settlement, including a full-service sports agency and marketing firm in Young Money APAA Sports. That venture connects him with figures in professional basketball, boxing, and football, with the latter grouping especially robust. Further activity on this front broadens his reach beyond entertainment without weakening the value or integrity of the company’s name.
Ultimately, however, Wayne ought not overlook Young Money’s history and ongoing potential as a record label. Even apart from his own catalog, that legacy cannot be overstated, having launched and nurtured the major label careers of current hip-hop hitmakers Drake and Nicki Minaj. A record executive with both of those artists under their belt should rightfully be heralded as one of the greatest tastemakers of our times, a due credit that unfairly eluded Wayne as his signees soared in the 2010s. Obviously, not all of his signees went on to produce hits there, and those tied to existing contracts in the prior model still have to contend to some extent with Cash Money’s involvement. To be clear, just because Young Money Records belongs to Wayne now doesn’t mean he gets Aubrey and Onika all to himself.
Nonetheless, getting spun off with all the benefits of Republic’s marketing machine presents the label with the opportunity to expand beyond its maturing stars. At long last, Wayne can make deals with whomever he wants without needing Birdman’s signature to make it official, the latter contingency having previously quashed plans with Chanel West Coast some years back. Respected and admired, he now can use his ear and his platform to identify and attract talent at a time when SoundCloud sensations and viral singles are all the rage at the majors. Even if Wayne never drops Tha Carter VI or another album of his own ever again, carrying Young Money up into the 2020s as a thriving player in this industry could truly emancipate him from his former mentor Birdman’s long shadow and assure him a future all his own.