2005/nov/lil_wayne/header.jpgMiami’s a party town by nature; this much is no mystery. Sometimes, though, nature makes its feelings known about such things. On this particular weekend, forces both natural and man made have conspired to make things more chaotic than usual. Hurricane Katrina has come and gone, and now a more metaphorical storm is making landfall in the form of MTV’s Video Music Awards. It’s a weekend of manic energy, high posting and high drama. The kind of weekend during which an eagle-eyed pedestrian might see The Game eating outside in South Beach, then turn the corner and see Sleepy Brown standing shirtless outside a Walgreens. The kind of weekend when a Kanye West party at the Shore Club empties in a stampede after Suge Knight gets shot in the leg.

But just because Miami is poppin’, doesn’t mean the rest of Florida has been forgotten. Places like Orlando need love, too—and as someone from Orlando once told Lil Wayne, while he was visiting from his own native New Orleans, “Next to Mickey Mouse, you the biggest thing here.” So Friday night might have been a Diddy party at the South Beach club Mansion, and Sunday night might be the VMA show, to which Wayne will accompany a certain Baddest Bitch (more on that later), but in between comes Saturday night. Which is exactly when, and exactly why, the man born D’Wayne Carter, a.k.a. Lil Wayne, a.k.a. Weezy F. Baby, is on a tour bus, dipped head to toe in A Bathing Ape, heading north from Miami to bring O-Town some heat.

Not that the heat is reserved exclusively for his live show. An hour or so into the trip, Wayne remembers a long-standing grievance with the very magazine whose representative is sitting on the bus with him. Lukewarm album reviews and what his manager feels was a biased account of a Cash Money concert in New York have him a little salty. “I don’t fuck with XXL,” he says, growing surly. “I just remembered that. Fuck XXL! Straight up. And you can put that in there.”

2005/nov/lil_wayne/1.jpgWhen his manager tries to massage the situation, Wayne explodes: “I’m from the hood! If they say Fuck me, forever it’s, Fuck you! You’re workin’ with a gangsta now! Matter fact, a nigga might wanna get off this bus right now.” Meaning, of course, your friendly XXL correspondent. Wayne calms down soon enough, though, and the interview proceeds.

You’ll have to forgive Wayne if he’s a little on edge. For all the national attention focused on the South over the years, it’s often managed to miss him. At the tender age of 23, he can boast 10 years and four solo albums worth of experience—his debut, Tha Block Is Hot, went platinum when he was just 17—but people outside the region have habitually shoved him to back-burner status. Even when he released the seasoned and assured Tha Carter last year, he was accused of jocking Jay-Z from flow to surname.
Finally, a year and a half later, the tide is turning. First, the slow-burning Carter woke heads up, and a single, “Go DJ,” proved to be Wayne’s biggest solo song to date. Then he dropped the scene-stealing verse on Destiny’s Child’s “Soldier” remix, and Jigga himself nearly stole him away from Cash Money Records. Now, back safe and sound at the label that made him (holding the title of president, no less), and with Tha Carter 2 set to drop in late November—and Trina on his arm—Wayne’s primed to take his down South party countrywide.

While Lil Wayne’s star first rose back in the late ’90s, during Cash Money’s halcyon days, with B.G. and the Hot Boys and cuts like “Bling Bling” and “Back That Azz Up,” the wave that’s cresting right now began with the success of “Go DJ.” The song’s impact could be attributed to a few things: Mannie Fresh’s menacing minimalist track; Wayne’s disjointed braggadocio; and the fact that his voice has developed a croak that adds old-soul heft to his trademark, smart-ass, flyer-than-you flow (“And I move like the coupe through traffic/Rush-hour, GT Bent’, roof is absent/Yo’ bitch present with the music blastin’/And she keep askin’, ‘How it shoot if it’s plastic?’”)

As with any big single, though, much of its staying power is due to a simple and addictive chorus. The hook comes from a line from a 1993 Cash Money song, U.N.L.V.’s “Don’t U Be Greedy,” a fact that might have been lost on most
people outside New Orleans. U.N.L.V.’s Tec-9 and Lil’ Ya, however, were well aware. In fact, the group—down to a duo due to the 1997 murder of MC Yella Boy, and long since departed from the label they helped put on the New Orleans map—had recently put out their own song with the same chorus, also called “Go DJ.” They claimed Wayne and Mannie Fresh had jacked their concept wholesale. “They put out a song dissin’ me because of that,” Wayne says. “But that’s a Cash Money song, brother. I’m the president. I can do what I want.”

That he would tap a vintage Cash Money tune for inspiration should come as no surprise; the company’s history is intertwined with his own. He grew up in the same neighborhood as one of the original Cash Money rappers, Lil Slim, and started listening to the label’s music when he was all of 8 years old. “Back then, I wasn’t fuckin’ with Jay-Z or Biggie or nothin’ like that,” Wayne remembers. “You couldn’t bring that other music to New Orleans. It was Cash Money or nothin’.” When he started writing rhymes as a kid, a rapper named Pimp Daddy was hitting in the streets with a song called “You Gotta Be Real.” Young D’Wayne took to calling himself Shrimp Daddy—“I was short, real short”—and rewrote the lyrics to create “You Gotta Be Lil’.” “I had me a hit with that one,” he says now, laughing. “On the school grounds.”

When he was 11, D’Wayne stopped by a Cash Money in-store appearance, where Lil Slim introduced him to Baby and Slim Williams, the brothers who had started Cash Money Records in 1991. “I did a rap where I spelled out my hood, Hollygrove,” says Wayne, “and they gave me a card. You know, you give a child a card, he ain’t never stop callin’ that number.” So he would call the pager number incessantly. Baby would invite him to the Cash Money offices, and Wayne’s mother, Cynthia, would drive him over like it was after-school football practice. “I wouldn’t do nothin’ sittin’ there all day,” says Wayne, “but some days they’d be like, ‘Let’s take a ride.’ All that escalated into me being part of the clique.”

Soon Wayne was recording as half of the B.G.’z (Baby Gangstaz), a group consisting of him as “Baby D,” and another young Cash Money rapper named Doogie, or “Gangsta D.” But when Wayne’s grades started slipping, his mother pulled him out of the group. (She knew of the Williams bros.’ street rep.) When the B.G.’z album, True Story, was released in 1995, Wayne only appeared on three tracks, and everyone assumed that “B.G.” was Doogie’s name. It stuck, as it turned out, and Wayne had to find a new name. Thus was born Lil Wayne as we know him today.
Two years later, Wayne’s stepfather, Reginald “Rabbit” McDonald, was abducted and murdered, and Baby stepped in to act as a surrogate. After that, the Cash Money fairy tale unrolled with a quickness. Juvenile came around, as did Turk, and the Hot Boys wasformed. The label signed its historic $30 million deal with Universal in 1998, and the parade of hits began. With Mannie Fresh’s patented electrofunk and their distinctive N’awlins slang, the crew sold more than 10 million records from 1998 to 2000. The Cash Money, ahem, Millionaires became the biggest thing in rap.