Five years ago, a then-25-year-old Lil Wayne capped off an inhuman run of mixtapes, guest features and unofficial leaks with the release of the biggest (in sound and stature) album of the late 2000s, Tha Carter III. It’s often overlooked that by the time he released the third part of his Carter series, Wayne had been a working rapper for close to a decade, as the youngest and most energetic member of Cash Money Records and its wily quartet the Hot Boys. Not only had Wayne been exposed to different styles, sounds and proper ways to create records in that span of time, he’d been practicing and perfecting his craft via a consistent output of mixtapes and studio albums, making the greatness of Tha Carter III all but inevitable.
At the time of its release, much of the hype surrounding Tha Carter III mentioned its incredible sales numbers—it sold over a million copies in its first week, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished in hip-hop since 50 Cent’s 2005 LP, The Massacre—but listening back on the album, it’s more a cultural touchstone than a commercial success story. By pulling together a diversely talented crew of collaborators, Wayne—who reportedly recorded over 300 songs for CIII—slowly and painstakingly curated a well-rounded album that plays as more of a greatest hits compilation than an execution of a singular idea.
With contributions from icons like Swizz Beatz, Kanye West and even Jay-Z—who figuratively passed the torch to Wayne as rap’s new key-holder on their fittingly titled anthem “Mr. Carter”—Weezy got more than just co-signs of his greatness; he got an open door to the next floor of the building, the superstar floor. With Tha Carter III, he cemented himself as a new legend while aggressively asserting, “Next time you mention Pac, Biggie or Jay-Z, don’t forget Weezy baby!” In any conversation about rap’s elite since, we haven’t forgotten to mention Weezy.
To celebrate the five-year anniversary of Tha Carter III, XXL pulled together a group of collaborators who played an instrumental role in the making of the album to discuss our eight favorite tracks, in which they shed light on the recording process, the unfortunate number of leaks leading up to the album’s release and the legacy of Tha Carter III, five years later. Click through to check out what they had to say.