Lil Wayne

Playing With Fire

BY Chris DartPublished May 13, 2013

Regardless of what you think of Lil Wayne as an artist, or a human for that matter, it's hard not to be fascinated by him. By the time Wayne turned 16, he'd been shot, lost a parent, become a parent, become his family's primary breadwinner, and had an album chart on the Billboard Hot 100. He's produced some of the best hip-hop records of the past decade (Tha Carter II and III), as well as some of the worst (Rebirth). As a label exec, he's helped launch the careers of megastars like Drake, Nicki Minaj and Tyga. As a celebrity, he's filled gossip pages with his drug problems, multiple arrests, and bizarre behaviour. He has been the poster child for both hip-hop's growing affinity for skateboard culture, and for its dangerous obsession with codeine and promethazine cough syrup. He once guest-blogged about the NBA playoffs for ESPN, then had the ESPN logo tattooed on him. Most recently, he had an extended stay in the hospital following a seizure, and was rumoured to be on the verge of death. Many rappers have crossed over into pop stardom, but few have managed to grab the public's imagination like the diminutive, skateboarding, almost insanely tattooed former Hot Boy-turned-label boss.

1982 to 1992
Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. is born on September 27, 1982, to 19-year-old cook Jacita Carter (known as Cita) and Dwayne Michael Turner in New Orleans' impoverished Hollygrove neighbourhood. At 21, Jacita bows to pressure from her parents and marries her baby's father; two-year-old Dwayne is the ring bearer. The marriage quickly implodes and the pair separate in a matter of months. Dwayne spends his early life moving between Cita's house and his grandmother's. Dwayne will see his biological father only sporadically throughout the rest of his life, and when he does there's usually violence. Jacita attempts to fill the void in Dwayne's life with a series of temporary father figures. In spite of his troubled home life, Dwayne is a gifted student and shows signs of being a talented performer. He starts rapping at age eight, performing at neighbourhood parties under the name Gangsta D.

1993 to 95
Jacita begins dating Reginald "Rabbit" McDonald, who will become Wayne's stepfather. McDonald moves the family from Hollygrove to East New Orleans. "Rabbit was the first dude who came in and really try to be cool with me," Wayne will tell Vibe in in 2007. "My father figure varied and ain't nobody ever tried. I could tell Terry [Wayne's previous stepfather] was scared to come sit and talk to me. But it was natural for Rabbit to come, chill and kick it with me." Wayne would later admit that seeing Rabbit, the only man he ever considered a father, hustling in the street was one of the reasons he would follow a similar path. "It wasn't like he was my influence to do it," says Wayne in an early interview. "I was on the edge of doing it, but when he came in as a father figure, and he was doing it, that was my excuse."

Around age 11, Dwayne seeks out another father figure, as well. Brian "Baby" Williams founded Cash Money Records, along with his brother, Ronald "Slim" Williams, in 1991. By 1993, they are known quantities in and around New Orleans, having had a local hit with their group UNLV. Acting on a tip from a rapper on the label, the Williams' arrange to meet Dwayne at a local record store, where Dwayne freestyles for them. Dwayne is enamoured with the brothers, their lifestyle, and the label and they let Dwayne hang around the office and run errands. Eventually, the Williams' sign the young rapper. Cita, who knows that Baby had spent five years in jail, and went to high school with Slim, isn't pleased. "She went to school with Slim… She didn't like Baby," Wayne will tell Vibe. "She knew he was wild, he went to jail for five years, so she was like 'You ain't going with damn Baby! Baby ain't your angel, ya dig?'"

Due to his mother's objections, Dwayne's involvement with Cash Money is off and on until he's 13. Roughly a year after signing, Dwayne's career is almost derailed by a near-death incident. In November 1994, 12-year-old Dwayne comes home early from school early. In his parent's bedroom, he discovers a blue steel Taurus 9 mm handgun — depending on which version you hear, the gun either belongs to Rabbit, or was left behind by a friend of the family. Dwayne begins playing with the gun, imitating Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver in front of the mirror. He drops it and it accidentally discharges, hitting him in the chest. Wayne is rushed to hospital where he spends two weeks in intensive care. "I didn't know that, even when the clip was out, you could still have the one in the chamber," he says. "It went off." Wayne's stepfather, "Rabbit" McDonald, goes to jail for possession of an illegal handgun as a result. After his recovery, the Williams brothers team 12-year-old Dwayne with another middle school-aged rapper on their roster, Lil Doogie. Together, the pair, known as the B.G.'z, will release one album, 1995's True Story. Dwayne leaves the group shortly after, and Lil Doogie takes on the name B.G. as a solo artist.

1996 to 1997
In 1996, a few months after getting out of jail, Rabbit is shot dead outside of a New Orleans gas station. Wayne gets his first tattoo at age 14: "R.I.P. Rabbit." It's a turning point in Dwayne's life — with bills to pay, he quits school to pursue music full-time. "My momma made me drop out when I was 14," he'll tell Vibe. "She came in one morning and saw me putting a pistol in my backpack, talking 'bout 'You gotta bring all that to school?' Then she got on the phone with her friend like 'Girl, he packing a gun to go to school! Are the schools so fucking bad? I hate the school.' Then she came back in the room five minutes later, like 'Call Baby. You don't go to school no more.' I was like 'Damn, for real?'"

Dwayne stops using the "D" in his name— a reminder of a biological father he scarcely knew. "I dropped the D because I'm a junior and my father is living and he's not in my life and he's never been in my life," he'll tell Katie Couric in 2009. "So I don't want to be Dwayne, I'd rather be Wayne." When Couric asks Wayne if his biological father knows the reason for the decision, he smiles and says "He knows now."

Since the end of the B.G.'z, B.G. has become a local sensation courtesy of his album Chopper City. Baby's new plan is to capitalize on that success by partnering B.G. back up with Wayne as well as two other young rappers, 15 year-old Turk and 21-year-old Juvenile. (While still an unknown on the national stage, Juvenile had also released a regionally successful solo record the year before.) The group would be called the Hot Boys. (Time Magazine's Josh Tyrangiel would later refer to the group as "*NSync with shivs.") A fifth member, Bulletproof, is originally a member, but leaves before any recording.

In 1997, Cash Money Records explodes, due almost entirely to the success of the Hot Boys, both as a group and as solo artists. Between May and November, 1997, the Boys release four albums: one as a group, a solo effort by Juvenile and two solo B.G. records. Juvenile's Solja Rags and B.G.'s It's All on U, Vol. 1, both sell in excess of 100,000 records, but the debut Hot Boys album, Get It How U Live!, is the real breakout success. Get It How U Live! sells over 300,000 copies, hits #37 on the Billboard Hip Hop and R&B chart, and sparks a race amongst major labels to sign a distribution deal with Cash Money. In November, Wayne's girlfriend Antonia gives birth to their daughter, Reginae; Wayne is 15. (Wayne and Antonia marry in 2004, then divorce two years later.) In the 2007 Vibe interview, Wayne says that he became a teenage father at his mother's encouragement. "I was on tour like crazy with Cash Money, and my momma said she was bored, alone, and scared in the house by herself," he says. "She was like 'Why don't you just have a baby with somebody? Just tell the little girl's mom I'mma take care of the baby, don't worry about that.'" Cita remembers it differently: "I didn't know if I could have more babies," she's said. "And I used to say 'Go have a baby.' I didn't mean at that age. I was telling him, when you grow up, get me a granddaughter. But it happened at an early age."

1998 to 1999
In 1998, Cash Money signs a $30 million pressing and distribution deal with Universal; Cash Money retains 85 percent of royalties, 50 percent of publishing, and ownership of all masters. The first post-deal album is Juvenile's third studio effort, 400 Degreez. That record goes platinum, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hip Hop and R&B chart, and #9 on the Billboard album chart. B.G.'s remarkable fifth album, Chopper City in the Ghetto, goes platinum even faster, is seen as the album that puts the Hot Boys on the map. The single "Bling Bling" hits #36 on the Billboard Hot 100, and popularizes "bling" in the cultural lexicon. While Wayne does not have a verse on the original version of the song, he's responsible for its memorable chorus. In a 2009 interview with VH1, Baby will give Wayne credit for inventing the word "bling." "If I had have knew better, I would have copyrighted that shit," he'll say.

By the time the Hot Boys' second album, Guerilla Warfare, comes out in July, 1999, they are already household names. Not surprisingly, it's Cash Money's most successful release to date, debuting at #5 on the Billboard album chart and #1 on the Hip Hop and R&B chart, selling 145,000 copies in the first week. Yet Lil Wayne's solo debut, Tha Block is Hot, is even bigger. The 70-minute record is, remarkably, almost completely free of profanity. The 17-year-old MC doesn't want to upset his mother, so keeps the salty language to a minimum. It receives a standard-issue RIAA "parental advisory" warning anyway. Neither the warning label nor the lack of curse words hurt sales. Tha Block is Hot sells 229,000 copies in its first week and 117,000 in its second. Lil Wayne is nominated as 1999's Best New Artist by The Source. It will be Lil Wayne's only major success for several years.

2000 to 2001
In 2001, Wayne releases his sophomore album, Lights Out; it sells only 116,000 copies in its first week and totals just under a million copies, despite being fairly warmly received by critics. His third album, 500 Degreez, does even worse on both fronts. Commercially, it's Wayne's worst first week to date, selling only 103,000 copies, less than half of what Tha Block is Hot sold. Critics start to wonder if Wayne has anything to offer beyond cars and women. Plans for a fourth album are put on hold. The Hot Boys break up. Juvenile and Turk leave the label in a dispute over money, while B.G. starts his own label, Chopper City. Wayne is the last man standing, feeling creatively stifled, and facing has-been status before he's legally allowed to drink.

2002 to 2004
Frustrated with label politics, Wayne begins self-releasing underground mixtapes with a group called the Sqad. Working at a frenzied rate, Wayne releases six, called SQ 1-6, in 2002 and early 2003. In 2003, Wayne decides to stop writing rhymes — not that he isn't going to rap anymore, he just doesn't want to commit anything to paper. The very process of writing, he feels, is constraining his creativity. "When I stopped writing, I noticed everything was real now," he'll tell VH1. "I can't talk about nothing but what's real. Because I can't write nothing down." He uses up his last written lines on a 35-minute non-stop rhyme marathon called "10,000 Bars," released as SQ 7. The recording is a mixture of full verses, song fragments and half-fleshed out bars. Wayne tears each page out of his rhyme book after recording it. (You can actually hear the pages being crumpled up in the background.) Wayne says he made it to ensure a clean break from his old, written material. "The only way I won't be able to rap anything I've written again is to record everything I've ever written before once," he'll tell VH1's Behind the Music. "10,000 Bars" is a turning point for Wayne. Everything after it will feature a remarkably different rhyme style, and a new, more abstract approach.

Seeking new creative partners, and looking to further distance himself from his past, Wayne moves from New Orleans to Miami; it quickly pays dividends, allowing Wayne to link up with Miami native DJ Khaled. In early 2004, Wayne debuts his new style on a mixtape with Khaled, entitled Da Drought, the first in a series of mixtapes of the same name. Over the next four years, Wayne is one of the most prolific artists working, releasing three solo studio albums, a collaboration with Baby, and a seemingly endless stream of unofficial street and internet-only mixtapes.

At just 22, Wayne is staging a comeback. In June of 2004, he releases Tha Carter. The title is a reference to both his surname and the movie New Jack City. Critics stop short of whole-heartedly embracing the album — thematically, it isn't that different from Tha Block is Hot or 500 Degreez, but they do notice that Wayne is starting to take his craft more seriously. "Is it innovative? Original? Are they speaking on anything new? No," wrote Rap Reviews Steve Juon. "All the same time though, Wayne does seem to have rededicated himself to being a good lyricist, finding ways to inject his own unique brand of humour and wit into even the most murderous of tracks. On 'We Don't' for example he spits this nice line: 'I took over the circus/cause I'ma act a clown if you put your feet down on my surface.' Not bad! It's ironic that he refers to himself as a younger Birdman, because in flow and ability he clearly surpasses Baby on songs like 'Ain't That a Bitch.'" Fans, however, are much more forgiving. Tha Carter immediately shoots to #2 on the Hip Hop and R&B Charts, and #9 on the Billboard 200.

2005 to 2006
Wayne continues to build his online reputation with mixtape releases. Dedication (2005), released with DJ Drama, is a particularly big moment for the rapper. The tape, which features Wayne rapping over instrumentals from the likes of Cam'Ron, the Roots and 2Pac, shows his new, non-sequitur heavy style at its fullest. But Dedication was only a warm-up for what was next.

Tha Carter II is a different animal from anything Wayne has released to date. His voice jas filled out to his trademark croak. His multi-levelled punch-lines are smarter and more rewind-worthy than ever. His duet with Robin Thicke, "Shooter" proves that he is viable not just as a rapper, but as a pop star. Critics are equally smitten. "People who met Wayne on "Go DJ" and thought him a lunchroom hack MC — who knows what's happened since then, but damn has he learned how to write," wrote Pitchfork's Nick Sylvester. "His squeak is now a croak, his laugh a little more burly, his flow remarkably flexible. Sometimes he's deliberate like syrup cats ('But this is Southern, face it/ If we too simple then y'all don't get the basics') but when he needs to be, he's nimble as that Other Carter: 'I ain't talking too fast you just listening too slow.' Remy and weed, fast things and women, the corner — these are Wayne's wax since B.G.'ing with B.G., putting piff on the campus before he ever enrolled in college." Suddenly, people are seriously referring to Lil Wayne — near has-been and Juvenile's former sidekick — as the best rapper alive. With the former best rapper alive, also named Carter, taking a step back to focus on his career as a label boss, it's increasingly hard to argue the point.

That said, Wayne is also becoming a label head in his own right. In 2005, he launched his own sub-label, Young Money. While it was initially only a vehicle for Wayne's material, it will soon include many of the hottest young MCs on the planet. The release of Like Father, Like Son, a collaborative album with his long-time mentor Baby in 2006, receives mixed reviews, but peak at #3 on Billboard 200, and produces hit single "Stuntin' Like My Daddy." Although little is made of it at the time, Wayne's longest running beef, with Pusha T of the Clipse, starts to develop in earnest in October, 2006. Wayne feels the song "Mr. Me Too," which references an unnamed rapper biting Pusha's style, is aimed at him. "I thought the whole 'Mr. Me Too' video was about me, to tell you the damn truth," he'll tell Complex. "They think I want to be like them. I'm on a million-dollar bus going around the world charging people from $50,000 to $150,000 for verses, and I got 77 songs in magazines and I got a billion more. Do the math; you think I'm trying to be like you? No sir." The beef go into hibernation for several years, with neither MC really acknowledging it.

By 2007, Wayne has completely crossed over. Suddenly, he's not just on BET and MTV, but Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel. He seems to have a guest verse with every rapper and R&B singer working. His public profile is higher than ever. Unfortunately, there's a downside — Wayne is also a bigger target than ever. The man who escaped New Orleans without a criminal record is suddenly in constant trouble with the law. In August of 2006, Wayne is arrested in Atlanta for possession of marijuana, Xanax and hydrocodone without a prescription. In July 2007, riding high of the success of Tha Carter II, and enjoying the life of the most sought-after rapper in the world, Wayne comes to New York for his first headlining show. On the way to the stage, Wayne is stopped by police and security, frisked, and made to walk through a metal detector. Feeling disrespected, Wayne launches in to an anti-police diatribe to start the show, before delivering a high-energy performance. After the show, the bus is only a block away from the venue when it is stopped by the NYPD, who search the vehicle, turning up eight ounces of marijuana and a .40 calibre semi-automatic pistol. The weed is eventually determined to belong to a member of Wayne's entourage, but Wayne is charged with illegal gun possession. "The chief, he didn't even know who Wayne was," says Mack Maine, a Young Money artist and childhood friend of Wayne's, during an interview with VH1. "He had to ask the younger [officers], 'Which one is Lil Wayne? Put the cuffs on him.'"

The New York arrest will hang over Wayne for almost three years. It's followed by another arrest in October 2007 in Idaho. Police arrest him on a felony fugitive warrant from Georgia. (Wayne failed to appear in court for his 2006 marijuana arrest. The fugitive warrant will eventually be dropped and the whole thing is written off as a paperwork error.)

While Wayne doen't release a full-length album in 2007, he doesn't slack, either. In addition to a seemingly endless list of guest appearances, Wayne has two critically lauded releases of his own, The Leak and Da Drought 3. Released online on Christmas Day, The Leak features five songs recorded for Tha Carter III that have leaked on the Internet. Rather than fight it, Wayne releases the songs as an EP, so his fans could have high quality copies. Released with little fanfare or label support, The Leak still manages 250,000 downloads. (The Leak is later included in the deluxe edition of Tha Carter III.) Da Drought 3, meanwhile, is the latest in his Da Drought mixtape series. Wayne says he didn't realize how long Drought 3 was going to be until it's already completed. He simply keeps hearing beats he liked on the radio, and recorded over them. "I just rap every day. ... Like I told you, I don't say, 'You know what? I'm dropping a double mixtape right now,'" he'll tell MTV. "I start recording, [there's so much material,] it's like, 'We gotta do two of these. Wow.' That's what happened. It took about a month. I wanted to do every song I could. Then every time I go in [the studio], something new was coming out and I'd be like, 'I gotta do that one too.' I think Mike Jones' ['Sky's the Limit' freestyle] was the last one that come out."

MTV names Wayne the hottest MC in the game, while The New Yorker calls him "Rapper of the Year." GQ calls him the "Workaholic of the Year." Even without releasing an album, he manages to produce enough quality material that Vibe creates a list of Wayne's 77 best verses from 2007. (His verse on DJ Khaled's "We Takin' Over" is the winner.)

The year starts with another arrest — Border Patrol officials stop Wayne's tour bus outside of Yuma, Arizona. A K-9 unit turns up almost four ounces of marijuana, an ounce of cocaine, an ounce and a half of ecstasy, and $22,000 in cash. Wayne and two others are arrested and charged with four felonies. Things look up with the release of Tha Carter III. Despite leaking online ten days before its release, Tha Carter III sells a mind-blowing 1.5 million copies in its first week, unheard of in the post-downloading era. The album sells double platinum within six weeks. "One-point-five million records in the first week? Who's doing that?" former Vibe Editor-in-Chief Danyel Smith tells VH1. "Eminem's not doing it. Kanye's not doing it. Justin's not doing it. Britney's not doing it. Nobody's doing it."

"OK, it's true: he really is the best rapper alive," writes Jody Rosen in Rolling Stone. "Lil Wayne made that claim on his last official CD, in 2005, and since then, he's unleashed an astonishing torrent of mixtapes, leaks and guest appearances to backup the boast. So his long-anticipated 'legit' album follow-up feels a bit gratuitous. Still, Tha Carter III establishes beyond a doubt that the zeitgeist in 2008 belongs to one artist: a dreadlocked dadaist poet from New Orleans with a bad weed habit and a voice like a bullfrog. As Wayne croaks in the woozy "3 Peat," "Get on my level/You can't get on my level/You will need a space shuttle/Or a ladder that's forever."

Unfortunately, accolades bring more unwanted attention. Two weeks after Tha Carter II's release comes a lawsuit from publishing company Abkco Music, who claim that Carter III's "Playing with Fire" is obviously derived from the Rolling Stones' "Play with Fire," for which they own the publishing. What's unusual is that Abkco isn't seeking a cut of the royalties — they wanted the song scrubbed completely. The company's lawyers claim that Wayne's song features "explicit, sexist and offensive language," that could lead people to believe that the Stones approved of the song. Rather than get drawn into a protracted legal battle, Wayne's camp acquiesces — "Playing with Fire" is removed from digital download services, and left off subsequent physical pressings.

Dwayne become a father for the second time; Dwayne III is born in October, 2008.
Wayne's drug use comes under serious public scrutiny. While his affinity for cannabis and lean (promethazine and codeine cough syrup mixed with fruit juice or Sprite) was never a secret, media reports in early 2008 begin describing him as "addicted" to the mixture. "Everybody wants me to stop all this and all that," he says in an interview with MTV. "It ain't that easy — feels like death in your stomach when you stop doing that shit. You gotta learn how to stop, you gotta go through detox. You gotta do all kinds of stuff."

In 2009, Wayne's star crosses over: he's interview by Katie Couric, debates sports with Skip Bayless and Jay Mariotti on ESPN, and appears on The View to talk about education and addiction issues. He even gets referenced by President Obama in a speech to the NAACP: "They might think they've got a pretty jump shot or a pretty good flow," Obama said. "but our kids can't all aspire to be LeBron or Lil Wayne. I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers, not just ballers and rappers. I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court justice. I want them aspiring to be president of the United States of America."

He also comes into his own as a label exec and mentor. While he's no longer handling the day-to-day running of Young Money, having handed that responsibility off to Cortez Bryant in 2007, he is very much the label's creative head. In 2009, Young Money starts functioning as a full-fledged label. The first non-Wayne release is Drake's So Far Gone… The EP contained five songs from Drake's mixtape of the same name, as well as two new tracks. It's followed by We are Young Money, which features the label's entire roster. Both records produce multiple hit singles.

Unfortunately, 2009 is also filled with problems for Wayne. He's sued twice, first by promoter RMF Productions, who seek $1.3 million after Wayne cancels scheduled shows in upstate New York on three separate occasions. The other suit is launched by a Florida man named Thomas Marasciullo. Marasciullo claims that Wayne recorded him saying some "Italian-styled" words, but never told him what the recording would be used for. Marasciullo's voice appeared on Like Father, Like Son. While he would receive a shout-out in the album credits, he isn't paid.

These are minor distractions compared to the suit Wayne himself launches. In 2007, Wayne had agreed to be the subject of a documentary, produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker Adam Bhala Lough and co-produced by Quincy Jones III. The crew followed Wayne around for several months leading up to and immediately after the release of Tha Carter III. When the film, entitled The Carter, premieres at Sundance in 2009, Wayne and his camp panic. The film portrays Wayne as both a hardworking artistic perfectionist and a functional drug addict, rarely seen without a cup of lean in arm's reach. Wayne's camp immediately files suit against Jones's production company, QD3. The suit seeks to prevent the film's release, claiming that the rapper had been promised approval of the film's final cut. The suit leaves Jones confused more than anything. "The interesting thing is that Wayne saw the film and liked it," Jones tells CNN. "Even in the declaration of the lawsuit, it says that he likes the movie — so we're not sure if [the suit] is coming from him or that's someone else." The suit is rejected and the film is officially released online in November 2009; it immediately shoots to #1 on iTunes, and is praised by the Huffington Post as being "one of the top five hip-hop documentaries of all time."

In October, he pleads guilty to the 2007 New York weapons charge and awaits sentencing. In December, he's detained by Border Patrol agents in southern Texas. Several ounces of marijuana are found on Wayne's tour bus, but no charges are filed. Amidst all this chaos, Lil Wayne became a father twice more — actress Lauren London gives birth to Wayne's third child, Cameron, on September 9, while singer Nivea gives birth to Neal in November.

With a jail sentence looming, Wayne records even more prolifically, including work on a rock record. On February 2, a week before his scheduled sentencing, he releases rock record Rebirth, which sinks like a stone. "Wayne's big problem is that he seems to like the idea of rock music more than any actual rock music itself," writes Christopher R. Weingarten in The Village Voice. "Wishy-washy, noncommittal statements like 'American Star' (more accurate title: 'Dope Boy With a Guitar') vaguely rock in the way that R. Kelly or Toby Keith or Shop Boyz 'rocked' on similarly titled songs, wearing 'rock star' like a badge of vague rebellion, the same way a soccer mom (or Jon Gosselin) might sport an Ed Hardy long-sleeve. None of these tracks have the taut snap of N.E.R.D. or the Rubin-era imperiousness of a Travis Barker remix — the skittery, Barker-assisted track 'One Way Trip' sticks out like a sore callus."

The only praise the album receives is for the song "Drop the World," and even that is primarily for Eminem's guest verse. (Weingarten says it sounds like "the ninth best song on Encore.")

His jail sentencing is delayed for, of all things, dental surgery — Wayne requires eight root canals, and several teeth are removed and replaced with silicone implants. The sentencing is delayed again after a fire at the courthouse. Eventually, on March 8, Wayne is sent to Rikers Island to serve a one-year sentence. Seven days later, a bench warrant for his arrest is issued in Arizona, after Wayne misses a hearing in the 2008 drug charge due to already being incarcerated. In May, prison officials find him in possession of contraband: headphones and an MP3 player. Friends of Wayne's start a website, Weezy Thanx You, to publish Wayne's letters from jail. "The more time you spend contemplating what you should have done… you lose valuable time planning what you can and will do," he writes in his first letter to fans.

Wayne's eighth album, I Am Not a Human Being, drops on September 27, while Wayne is still incarcerated. It receives lukewarm reviews, but is generally seen as, if nothing else, an upgrade over Rebirth. While critics are less than impressed, fans eat it up. It's Wayne's second album to hit #1 on the Billboard 200. It's also the first album to top the Billboard charts while the artist who made it is in jail since 2Pac's Me Against the World. In November, Wayne is released, having served two thirds of his sentence. He immediately begins work on Tha Carter IV; the first single, "6 Foot 7 Foot," comes out in December.

Wayne spends most of the year in the studio working on Carter IV. It's to be both his first post-jail album, and his first post-lean album. (In an interview with GQ, he claims to have secretly kicked the habit in late 2009, but continues to rap about it.) In June, he releases Sorry 4 the Wait, a mixtape of him spitting over other people's instrumentals, as a way of apologizing for the delay in releasing the album. In September, Tha Carter IV drops, debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200, selling 964,000 copies in its first week. Much like I Am Not a Human Being, critics are not impressed. Wayne's creative metaphors and liquid wordplay have become stale and formulaic. "Looking for the truly bizarre references and star-eating tendencies of Wayne's best work?" writes Andy Hutchins in The Village Voice. "They're absent on C4, replaced by an apparent interest in being America's most proficient Blood ('Blunt Blowin'') who is also an ace cunnilingus performer ('So Special') and frequent sober strip club denizen ('She Will.') Wayne's arsenal of looping, serpentine flows, still occasionally tapped for inspired work on other artists' singles, has been reduced here to little more than a modified version of the plodding two-phrases-per-bar flow that Rick Ross has trampled rap with for 18 months. The much-reviled hashtag rap style is all over C4, with clunkers like 'For dear life you're holdin' on, En Vogue, nigga' thudding on nearly every track."

While it may not have the mind-blowing lyrics of Carter III, Carter IV does contain one very interesting thing, a shot at Jay-Z. (Baby had previously called Jay-Z overrated in an interview.) In early 2011, Jay-Z fired a shot at Wayne's mentor, Baby, on "HAM," saying "I'm like really, half a billi nigga? Really you got baby money/ Keep it real with niggas, niggas ain't got my ladies money." Wayne came roaring back on "It's Good," with a line that stops just short of threatening Jay-Z's wife, Beyoncé, saying "I got your baby money/ Kidnap your bitch, get that how much you love your lady money."

Wayne vaguely explaines the line in an interview with "I know for a fact music is about perception. You can't do anything, but perceive what you hear. I know that for a fact. So I can't ever be upset about someone's reaction." It's Wayne's worst year in civil court. Four different producers — Deezle, Bangladesh, David Kirkwood and Play-N-Skills — file separate lawsuits, claiming they're owed royalties for songs they made for Tha Carter III. Georgia-based Done Deal Enterprises also sues him, saying he stole the hit "BedRock," which appeared on We Are Young Money.

2012 to 2013
The next 18 months are be defined more by Wayne's time in the headlines and various beefs than his musical output. In May 2012, Wayne's ongoing cold war with Pusha T heats up as Pusha fires shots at both Wayne and protégé Drake on the song "Exodus 23:1," insulting both Wayne's business acumen and his street cred: "Contract all fucked up, I guess that means you're all fucked up/ You signed to one nigga, that signed to another nigga, that signed to three niggas now that's bad luck/ Damn that shit even the odds now, you better off selling this hard now/ You call that living out yours dreams? You can't fly without your wings…you get it/ Jeremy Scott's all camouflage, you can't hide it from yourself career sabotage/ I was really in that Travelodge, you just lying through your catalogues."

Wayne fires back on a track called "Ghoulish": "Fuck Pusha T and anybody that love him / His head up his ass, I'mma have to head-butt him". In an interview with Hip Hop Wired Pusha says that "Ghoulish" is so bad, it isn't even worth responding to. "In all honesty it was that bad to me," he says. "I don't like your taste particularly. Cause I feel all writers have a dope taste in music. But me personally, I think that shit was wack and borderline disrespectful."

In October 2012, Wayne has a seizure onboard a private jet. His Los Angeles-bound flight is grounded in Texas, where he is rushed to hospital. Publicists initially deny that it's a seizure, claiming severe dehydration instead. Days later, he's reported to have had a second seizure, also onboard a plane. In November, he admits to being on anti-seizure medication as a result. In early 2013, Wayne has his strangest beef yet — not with another rapper, but with Miami Heat power forward Chris Bosh, the Heat organization, and the NBA as a whole. On February 9, Wayne is escorted from a Heat-Lakers game by security. The avid Lakers fan says he was tossed for rooting for the wrong team. USA Today finds tweets from people in the crowd that night who said Wayne was tossed after gesturing that he had a gun during a confrontation with another fan. Later that month, during an All-Star Weekend party in Houston, Wayne reveals that he's been banned from NBA events. "If you're wondering why you didn't see me at the All-Star Game it's because I was banned from attending all NBA events," he yells "The Miami Heat got me banned… Fuck the NBA! Fuck LeBron! Fuck SheWade! Fuck Chris Bosh! And I fucked Chris Bosh wife!" He later apologizes to LeBron James and the City of Miami, but refuses to back down from his statements about Bosh and his wife, Adrienne Williams.

On March 12, 2013, Wayne is hospitalized for seizures again, this time while filming a video in Los Angeles. Conflicting reports begin to surface: that he's released then readmitted; that he's been put in a medically-induced coma, and to have received last rights. A TMZ report says the theoretically clean rapper has huge quantities of codeine in his system after binging on lean. Baby and Mack Maine both release statements saying that Wayne has suffered seizures, but was never in a coma, nor near death. They also refute statements that the seizures are drug-related. The Washington Post calls the incident "the most overheated celebrity deathwatch in recent years."

"To me, it's just his work ethic," Baby says in an interview with Hot 97's Angie Martinez. "It's just how he put in and what he believe in and how hard he work, how much dedication he gives to music and his fans and what he tryin' to accomplish in life. It had nothing to do with drugs. He just needs to get some rest, relax, take it one day at a time." Wayne is released after six days in hospital.

Wayne's tenth album, I am Not a Human Being II, is released in late March, hot on the heels of his hospitalization. Critics are, if anything, less impressed than they were with Human Being I or Carter IV. "That Human Being II includes a dubstep song at all will induce some side-eyes; so will the actual final track here, the rap-rock debacle 'Hello,' though that's just to be expected these days," writes Spin's Brandon Soderberg. "Rebirth was just three years ago. Wayne's Young Money Cash Money label recently signed Limp Bizkit. On 'Back to You,' Wayne even dares you to bristle at his wide-ranging bad taste, sampling Jamie Lidell's 'Compass' and pairing it with dude-metal guitar as he riffs on Big Freedia's New Orleans bounce classic 'Gin in My System.' At least one of those things will appeal to you a whole lot; at least one of those things will make you cringe. Like a lot of Lil Wayne's decisions lately, it's all very, very suspect." Wayne, now 30, has often stated that he wants to retire at age 35 to focus more on his family and business interests. If he does, it would be hard to blame him. He's already lived more than most people ever will.

Tha Block is Hot (Cash Money, 1999)
If you listen carefully, you can hear the links between the young, rapid-spitting MC here and the slow, syrup-sippin' abstract lyricist Wayne would evolve into. The high concept metaphors and verbal playfulness are already there, hidden amongst the lines about iced-out watches and women with big asses. It's also one of the best examples of turn-of-the-millennium Southern hip-hop anywhere.

Tha Carter II (Cash Money, 2005)
By 2005, hip-hop fans were already aware of the new, improved Lil Wayne thanks to his mixtape work, but Tha Carter II reintroduces him to a larger audience. "Fireman" shows Wayne's skill as a quotable punch-line MC, while "Shooter" demonstrates his potential as a pop star. It's the perfect blend of music for both the serious heads and the pop charts.

Tha Carter III (Cash Money, 2008)
If you only ever listen to one Lil Wayne album, Tha Carter III should be it. It features Weezy at his absolute creative peak. Clever bars and almost impossibly thick metaphors are backed by big, full speaker-rattling beats. Songs like "Lollipop" and "A Milli" are already verging on classic status. If you want Wayne at his best, this is it.

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