“The pictures we took yesterday were monumental,” Bryan “Baby” Williams, co-CEO of Cash Money Records, says while sitting on Lil Wayne’s tour bus on a rainy July day in the Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel parking lot. “I never done no shit like that, as far as being exposed to the world. What we showed was our pain, our gain, our losses, our loyalty. I think that’s the most prominent pictures you could ever put on that muthafucka.” Wayne, busy rolling up a blunt while pacing the tour bus, agrees: “A picture speaks a thousand words. I think that one speaks loudest.”
Birdman and Weezy F. Baby are talking about the cover of XXL’s 10th anniversary issue, shot in the N.O. on the very streets that Baby was raised: Valence and Magnolia. In fact, it’s the exact same spot that CM’s first XXL cover (of nine covers) was shot back in April 1999. But despite the location, there’s a major difference between the old photo and the 21st-century version: Only two of the five original Cash Money stars are featured.
Since CMR exploded on the national hip-hop scene in 1998, the company has had a roller-coaster ride of a journey, selling over 43 million albums while also suffering through departures of the label’s two biggest artists—Juvenile and B.G.—and, later, Young Turk and Mannie Fresh, after well-documented financial disputes. But business hardships and losing artists and friends never stopped Baby and Wayne from progressing. And the bond between the two has grown stronger over the years, as they’ve built their father-son relationship and themselves as artists and businessmen.
Today, Baby and Wayne sit on the tour bus changed men. Wayne is now the star of Cash Money Records, and with his fast-growing musical catalogue and beastly skills on the mic, the self-proclaimed “best rapper alive” has cultivated himself into the most popular artist in today’s hip-hop landscape. Weezy’s also taken on the job of president of Cash Money and CEO of Young Money Entertainment, his label through CM. His dedicated grind has helped put the company at hip-hop’s forefront, and his sixth solo album, Tha Carter 3, is anticipated by heads everywhere. Big boss Baby hasn’t been slacking, either. After some talk of retirement, his third album, 5G (Five Star General), is scheduled to drop this October.
In honor of our 10th anniversary, Baby and Wayne sat with XXL to talk about their progress and regrets, the ladies, the drugs, the accolades and what they mean to hip-hop.
It’s been almost 10 years since Cash Money signed with Universal, but you were around for seven years before then. When you first signed the major deal, did you have any idea what to expect?
Baby: I thought we were too big [to be] independent, and it was time for growth. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew that they was able to get us a vision that we never had. I knew we could go scramble in the streets, because that’s how we made our music—through the streets and just grinding out ourselves. So I wanted them to just give us radio and TV exposure, because I thought they was good at that. I always like to study the game, and I was watching what they were doing with Suave House at the time.
Over the years, Cash Money has gone through several rosters. Wayne, was the departure of your more successful label mates, like B.G. and Juvenile, a blessing in disguise for your career?
Wayne: That would be for the people to say. I can tell you how I felt when it happened. I felt responsible. I lost my father when I was 14, and he left me with the house mortgage, and I had to step up, and I was my mama’s husband at 14. So replacing B.G., Juvenile, Turk and Mannie Fresh was easy.
In the past, you have said that you knew you had to step up and take control at that point. How do you teach yourself to get better and to step into that place?
Wayne: Repetition is the father of learning. Remember that… It was no pressure. Baby and Slim never came to me like, “Wayne, this happened, so…” We never had no meeting like, “They left, now it’s on you.” No. We just started doing it. “I got y’all. Don’t worry about nothing. We good. I’m better than all them.”
What can you tell us about your album, Tha Carter 3?
Wayne: 2008, baby, here we come. Carter 3! Gotta make ’em wait. Gotta make ’em want you… I never go in the studio and say, “We recording this.” I just say, “Carter 3,” on the beginning of the song if it’s a Carter 3 song. I record every day, every chance I can. That’s why you hear me on everybody else’s song, because they know Wayne’s in the studio—just send him an e-mail, and he’ll do it. I record every day. I got like a billion songs. Any day we choose, we can make an album.
In the beginning, Cash Money was all in-house. The artists didn’t really collaborate with other artists…
Wayne: Niggas was mean.
Then everything switched, and now you both do…
Baby: I never really felt like that. Niggas did what they did, but we was moving a lot, too. So niggas was playin’ they part in that, too. But young’n really broke that ice, and broke it out of the whole realm of even thinking like that.
Why was it important for you to do that, start working with so many people?
Wayne: Before I answer that, I could say that the way we work at Cash Money, the way they had us, as far as not working with everybody, kept you in tune to what you doing to get yourself better. We surrounded ourselves with us. All day. And it wasn’t about, we ain’t like you, we just too on us. That got me like that now. I don’t listen to nobody’s stuff.
I wouldn’t lie. I don’t listen to nobody’s stuff.
What about listening to the songs that you’re on? You’re gonna listen to the other rappers’ verses, or no?
Wayne: Yeah. I don’t mean like that. What I meant is, I don’t buy your album. As far as the radio and your single, I’ll sing it word for word. You wouldn’t even know I knew that part. But I’m not gonna buy your album, and I’m not expecting you to buy mine. Do your thing, and I’ma do mine.
So have you been in the studio with all these people you’re working with, or have your verses just been e-mailed around?
Wayne: E-mailed around. It’s only because it’s a difference with asking Lil Wayne to get on your song. He gon’ say… He gonna say, “Send it.” He gonna say, “Send it right now.” He gonna send it right back. That’s different. Instead of asking, “Can I get?” and then have a meeting, you gotta set it up. It’s like, “My e-mail is such and such, what’s yours?” And I send it right back.
Do you feel like Cash Money has always been on top of the game? Because it seems like the label has kind of struggled at times.
Wayne: We’re not on top of the game—we’re on top of our game. And we’ve always been on top of our game. It ain’t even about being on top of the game.
So, Wayne, right about now, there are new Wayne songs and freestyles like every week. You say you record nonstop. How do you decide what goes out? Are you the one leaking it?
Wayne: My Web site, YoungMoneyEnt—I actually submit a new song so they can just download almost every week. You can do your best, all your security methods or whatever to control it, but you can’t control a leak. I hear people’s stuff that get leaked, and nobody be knowing that that’s they album, because they just not into it. But for something of mine to get out there—“Oh my God, we got Tha Carter 3!” To know they that excited about a song makes me keep doing my thing. To me, you gotta be better than your last. So I be looking like: “Oh, them songs. I ain’t want them to come out, anyway. They old to me. It is what it is.”
Wayne, you’ve never had a big, multiplatinum album, yet it seems like you’re treated like you have achieved that success. Do you think it’s interesting that you’re being looked at on that level, without getting there?
Wayne: Um…I mean. [Pauses] What his name? Grant Hill ain’t got no shot title? Charles Barkley ain’t got no… Like, you could just be great. I’d rather just be great. The world’s too different right now for record sales… It ain’t even about that no more. Come on. The people on the radio all day ain’t selling a million copies. And the people that is selling a million copies is, who? Who’s going five, six million? Nobody. The songs that’s poppin’… Like, hip-hop right now… People ain’t got time to go buy no album. They got the Internet. “I just like that song, download that.” But what you do is, you get your business right, to where you download that, I’m gonna get something from that. That’s how you do. That’s how I do.