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FEATURE: Birdman, The Stunna[Definitive Dozen]

[Editor's note: For our 12th-anniversary celebration, XXL speaks with 12 artists who’ve come up, and blown up, with the magazine. 50 Cent, Baby, Shyne, Dame Dash, Crooked I and more reflect on how we’ve affected their careers—and how they’ve affected ours.]

Photography Jonathan Mannion
Photography Jonathan Mannion

In September 2007, Bryan “Baby” Williams (also known as Birdman) appeared on our 10th anniversary cover with Lil Wayne, tatted up and shirtless—his fourth XXL cover. We’ve been chronicling his story ever since Cash Money Records, which he founded in 1991 with his brother Ronald “Slim” Williams, went from a local New Orleans indie label to a national sensation. In the span of 12 years, Baby played both the CEO and the rapper role, releasing eight albums, including four as half of Big Tymers, and the 2006 Weezy collabo Like Father, Like Son. Still grooming Cash Money into the next generation, he reflects on his covers and his history with XXL.

Your first cover was in April 1999, with Lil Wayne, Mannie Fresh, Juvenile and Young Turk. What do you remember about that cover and the shoot?

Yeah, we shot that one in New Orleans. My best friend Brian did that one. Shit, this was, like, 10 years ago, right? Young, excited… I was probably about 26. We were just doing music, not really knowing what we was really doing, taking pictures. We just knew that we were working.

In the accompanying story, a White woman came up to Juve and asked for his autograph. Did you notice that your music was expanding outside of the hood?

Really, it had gotten too big—we couldn’t even go to malls without it being a stampede. We wasn’t staying in the projects, but we were in the projects every day. New Orleans was small, so, to us, we was just some ordinary niggas. To see these people react to the music, we realized that this shit really done got out of control, and we blew up.

Your first solo cover was in 2000. How did you feel?

At the time, we just was working, so, to us, it was just another picture. But I was very excited and happy like a muthafucka to see us—we was brand-new—to start seeing us all over the world like that. I was the older one out of everybody, and I was able to do more shit that they couldn’t, go places where they couldn’t. But I started to be on some family shit, so if one of us had it, all of us was good. I remember the cover, but we didn’t have a story behind it, so I was kind of pissed about that.

What do you mean? There is an article with it.

I didn’t get a cover story, though. I was still glad that I got the [cover], but I called [my publicist], talking about, “Why the fuck I ain’t have no conversation in my shit?” But I was happy with it, though. Love. [Editor’s note: Actually, Baby’s right. Although he graced our September 2000 cover, the feature was a pictorial celebrating our first three years.Our bad. We did have a short Truth column with Baby, though.]

The most recent cover featured a recreation of you and Wayne in front of a run-down house in New Orleans, with all the tats and chains—

I love that one. I think that was the best one. At the time, we was getting all of these fuckin’ tattoos.I wanted to do something different from anything that y’all ever had done, and I think, at that time, I wanted to just show our tats—Let’s go skin, with just our jewelry on.

Did you get any backlash?

It was controversial to have us on the cover like that, but a lot of muthafuckas loved it. I liked working with [the photographer]. I think Jonathan [Mannion] took that. But, also, anytime I’m working with my son, it’s like I’m in heaven. Really, you’re one of the ones who started it with putting us on the covers, so our relationship with XXL has always been 100. XXL always came through some kind of way.

To read more of the Definitive Dozen package, make sure to pick up XXL‘s September issue on newsstands now.

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