Lil Wayne 1979–

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Lil Wayne 1979–


An explosion of creativity in the mid-2000s took New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne to the top of the southern hip-hop heap. Starting out in hip-hop as a preteen, Lil Wayne moved beyond basic gangster imagery to deliver a distinctive mix of humor, braggadocio, and sheer rapid-fire wordplay. In 2007 New Yorker critic Sasha Frere-Jones called Lil Wayne “indisputably the rapper of the year,” and added that he had evolved into “an artist who may actually deserve the bragging rights to ‘best rapper alive,’ his current motto.” Lil Wayne himself reiterated these perceptions, telling XXL magazine to “talk to me like you talking to Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. You're not about to ask him about what he think about what somebody said about him. You … ask him about his greatness, and his greatness only.”

The date of birth of Lil Wayne has often been given as September 27, 1982, but the police report from a 2006 incident in which the rapper was arrested gave his birth date as September 27, 1979—a date that made his youthful musical feats seem somewhat less precocious, although still remarkable. Born Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., he was a native of New Orleans and spent at least part of his childhood in the Hollygrove neighborhood in the Uptown section of the city. His mother, Jacida Carter, separated from his father when Lil Wayne was young and married Reginald “Rabbit” McDonald, an employee of a lawn-care service.

Had Schoolyard Hit

Hollygrove was a productive area for hip-hop, and Lil Wayne was rapping by the time he was eight years old. Short from the beginning, he topped out at five feet five inches and dubbed himself Shrimp Daddy at first. He changed the lyrics to a hip-hop hit called “You Gotta Be Real” into “You Gotta Be Lil” and impressed friends. “I had me a hit with that one,” he told XXL, laughing. “On the school grounds.” Lil Wayne listened intently to recordings of homegrown New Orleans rap issued by the city's Cash Money record label, which was founded in 1991. He cornered the label's founders, brothers Bryan (Baby) and Slim Williams, at a record-store appearance and did a rap that spelled out the name of his neighborhood, Hollygrove, and the men gave him a business card. “You know, you give a child a card, he ain't never stop callin' that number,” Lil Wayne observed to XXL.

Eventually, he talked his way into the Cash Money studios. Befriended by the Williams brothers, he was given a chance to record with a young group called the B.G.'z (Baby Gangstaz) in 1995. The B.G.'z broke up when Jacida Carter pulled Lil Wayne out of the group, and Lil Wayne ran away from home, carrying McDonald's gun. He accidentally shot himself, and while hospitalized he told police the gun belonged to McDonald, who was arrested and charged with possession of an unregistered handgun. After his release, McDonald was killed by a gunshot, and Lil Wayne later memorialized him with a chest tattoo bearing the words “Bang Bang.” When he returned to the Cash Money fold, he had to come up with a new name to replace his “Baby D” moniker. It was around that time that he began using the name Lil Wayne. He married a high school girlfriend, Toya, and the couple had a daughter, Reginae, before divorcing; Lil Wayne remained involved in his daughter's upbringing.

He took another step toward the hip-hop elite when he teamed with a group of other young Cash Money rappers as the Hot Boys, who released the album Get It How U Live! in 1997. That album scored strongly in southern rap circles, selling a reported four hundred thousand copies. The Hot Boys' success scored not only a second release, Guerrilla Warfare (1999), but also solo releases from several of the individual members. Lil Wayne contributed a guest rap to one of the major hits of the year, Juvenile's “Back That Azz Up,” and he released his solo debut, Tha Block Is Hot. The album, as well as Lil Wayne's next three, were produced by Cash Money's Mannie Fresh.

Recorded Top-Five Album

The album's release coincided with the beginning of a two- or three-year period in which Cash Money challenged top labels from New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta for dominance of the hip-hop scene. Tha Block Is Hot sold a reported 229,000 copies in its first week of release, rising to number three on Billboard's Top 200 chart. The title track became a fixture of Lil Wayne's live shows, in which he showed an impressive ability to control crowds, especially for his age. “Lil Wayne was already enough of a ham to know that stage-whispering the phrase ‘the block is hot, the block is hot’ sounded more threatening than yelling it,” noted Frere-Jones.

Lil Wayne's next two releases, Lights Out (2000) and 500 Degreez (2002), solidified his reputation, but sales suffered as other artists deserted Cash Money for major labels. Lil Wayne went in the opposite direction, releasing his album Da Drought (2003) as an underground “mixtape” (actually a CD). Such releases, which were often distributed via the Internet, brought in no profit themselves, but they could spread an artist's new work with tremendous speed. Often, they featured new raps over beats from existing songs. As the music business developed over the next several years, Lil Wayne's decision seemed more and more to be a wise one: Sales of CDs through record stores and other conventional channels declined sharply, but he was ready to deliver a steady stream of new music that would keep his name at the top of iPod playlists.

By 2003 Lil Wayne was the only one of the original Hot Boys remaining at Cash Money. He stayed loyal to the label (which was acquired by the Universal conglomerate), and over the next four years he rose to the top of the hip-hop world with a well-timed mixture of new album releases and mixtapes. His 2004 album Tha Carter, noted Jason Birchmeier of the All Music Guide, “showcased a more measured and mature performance by the rapper, who seemed newly emboldened and sported a new look on the album cover (i.e., dreadlocks).” The album spawned the top-five hit “Go DJ,” whose seemingly irrepressible stream of rhymes signaled a new and highly creative phase in Lil Wayne's career.

At a Glance …

Born Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. on September 27, 1979, in New Orleans, LA; son of Dwayne and Jacida Carter; married Toya (divorced); one daughter, Reginae. Education: Studied at University of Houston.

Career: Began performing at age eight; signed to Cash Money Records; member of group Hot Boys, 1997-2003; began a solo music career, 1999—.

Awards: Black Entertainment Television, Viewers' Choice Award (with Birdman), 2007.

Addresses: Office—Cash Money Records, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404.

Enrolled in College

Over the next few years, Lil Wayne seemed to be everywhere. Mainstream rhythm and blues artists, including Destiny's Child on their 2004 hit “Soldier,” began to seek him out for guest contributions to their recordings, where his raspy voice was instantly identifiable. In August 2005 he was temporarily displaced along with thousands of other New Orleans residents following Hurricane Katrina, and he worked to aid New Orleanians in the storm's aftermath. He released Tha Carter II that same year to both critical and commercial success. Lil Wayne also enrolled in classes at the University of Houston, studying political science and psychology. “I'm not going back to school,” he pointed out to Shaheem Reid of MTV. “I'm really going to school for the first time.”

Lil Wayne stayed in the news in 2005, dating rapper Trina and ascending to the presidency of Cash Money. A pair of arrests in 2006 and 2007 (for illicit drug possession and a handgun law violation, respectively) did not slow him down musically. The year 2006 saw the release of Like Father, Like Son, featuring Lil Wayne in collaboration with his mentor, Cash Money chief executive officer, Birdman, and launching the hit “Stuntin' Like My Daddy.” But the real story was the consistent appearance of Lil Wayne mixtapes— Dedication (2005), Suffix (2005), 56 Flows (2006), Carter Files (2007), and others—in which Lil Wayne (sometimes using the name Weezy F. Baby) worked with top DJs, matching words to beat in a constantly shifting, dazzling variety of new ways. A good deal of hip-hop buzz belonged to Lil Wayne in 2007, even though he had not issued a new release, and much of the music world was awaiting Tha Carter III.

Selected discography

Tha Block Is Hot, Cash Money, 1999.

Lights Out, Cash Money, 2000.

500 Degreez, Cash Money, 2002.

Tha Carter, Cash Money, 2004.

Tha Carter II, Cash Money, 2005.

(With Birdman) Like Father, Like Son, Cash Money, 2006.

Tha Carter III, Cash Money, 2008.



Contemporary Musicians, Vol. 59, Gale, 2007.


New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 24, 2007.

New York Post, December 8, 2007, p. 13.

New York Times, July 24, 2007.

New Yorker, August 13, 2007.

Philadelphia Inquirer, August 16, 2006.

USA Today, October 31, 2006.

XXL, November 2005; December 2007.


Birchmeier, Jason, “Lil Wayne Biography,” All Music Guide,\WAYNE&sql=11:0nfoxqejldke~T1 (accessed January 2, 2008).

“Hush, Hush, Pass: How Old Is Lil' Wayne?, Diddy's Chain Snatch,” Vibe Confidential, (accessed January 2, 2008).

Reid, Shaheem, “Lil' Wayne Hits the Books in H-Town, Stays with His Cash Money Crew,” MTV, (accessed January 2, 2008).

—James M. Manheim