Lil Wayne has grown into a household name since releasing his monumental album Tha Carter III in 2008. On Monday, the album turned five and we gathered Wayne’s collaborators to tell us compelling stories on how certain tracks came together. It’s crazy to see how far Wayne has gone since his career-defining album. From the looks of it, the prolific rapper has continued to stay in work mode and received more accolades as the years have gone by.
As Wayne prepares for his America’s Most Wanted tour with T.I. and 2 Chainz, we decided to take a look back at Wayne’s 2008 interview right after his album sold over a million copies. Sounding just as determined as ever, Wayne dishes on Kanye’s influence, drugs, and why he adopted the “martian” moniker.
Written By Datwon Thomas
Sure, anticipation was high. But no one saw this coming. Over the course of one week in June, 26-year-old New Orleans rapper Dwayne Michael Carter, a.k.a. Lil Wayne, did the unthinkable, selling 1.1 million copies of his latest album, Tha Carter III, in a music market way down on its luck and buck. With album sales off nearly 40 percent from their peak eight years ago, the feat stands as a sure-shot indication of a breakthrough to true superstardom: 50 Cent status, Eminem status, Jay-Z. Think about the list of artists who’ve never in their storied careers sold as much in such a short period of time: Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Mariah Carey—hell, Jay-Z!
Wayne’s rocket ascent might seem out of nowhere to mainstream onlookers (when Carter III’s lead single “Lollipop” hit No. 1 onBillboard’s Hot 100 in May, it was his first appearance on the chart’s Top 10), but rap fans have been following his story since he came on the scene as a teen—the youngest member of Cash Money Records’ late-’90s juggernaut the Hot Boys. Things have gotten most interesting over the past four years, though, as—in the wake of a Hot Boys break-up that imperiled the label—Wayne has undergone a creative blossoming unlike anything hip-hop has ever seen. The last of the original crew to remain with Cash Money founder Brian “Baby” Williams, named president of the label in 2005, and granted his own Universal Records–backed imprint, Young Money, the same year, Wayne embraced the wrap-it-up-and-put-it-out ethos of the mixtape era–turned–Web 2.0, recording at an astounding pace and flooding the streets with new material. And the more he worked, the better he got, his lyrics transcending the Hot Boys’ blinged-out gangsterism with mind-spinning wordplay and kaleidoscopic imagery. Shrugging off naysayers, gossip, drug arrests and competition, he just kept making music, keeping himself in a hazy, narcotic bubble of a mindstate. His uniqueness became hard to put into words. He famously claimed to be the best rapper alive, and then a monster, “the rapper eater,” and then, finally, a “martian.”
We find Wayne today in the makeshift recording studio on his tour bus, parked in a Los Angeles hotel lot. “Studio” is a stretch. The equipment consists of an old-school stand-up mic wired to a Macbook laptop that’s seen better days—much better days, cracked along its right side to the guts of a keyboard jury-rigged with (no lie) a Bic lighter jammed inside the plastic casing. “You got to have it in there to make it work!” Wayne says, laughing. (This is the trusty old back-up computer, apparently. A brand new model has been taken off the bus for data transfer.) Decked out in a white-on-black Adidas track suit with matching shell toes and a black New Era fitted, Wayne looks like a lost member of Run-DMC—a mouthful of diamond-encrusted grills being the only Generation-Y giveaway. He’s calm and cool, kicked back on a couch, watching the ESPY awards on ESPN—yet suddenly combustible if the conversation turns to a topic that raises his ire. Reveling in the afterglow of his phenomenal, astronomical, otherworldly success, when the red light on XXL’s digital recorder lights up, Wayne gets on his space ship and hovers.