Bryan “Baby” Williams, a.k.a. Birdman, and D’Wayne “Lil Wayne” Carter, a.k.a. Weezy F. Baby, share a bond rare in the rap world. Closer than business partners, closer than collaborating artists, closer than friends, even, they kiss each other on the lips and openly use the word “love” to describe their feelings for one another. Like Father, Like Son is the name of their new album, a title that reflects the fact that, in the 13 years since Baby brought Wayne into Cash Money Records—the New Orleans record label he formed with his older brother, Slim—they have become, very deeply, family.
The bond has been strengthened through strife. Cash Money rose to prominence in the late ’90s, largely due to the beats created by in-house producer Mannie Fresh (who also made up a duo, Big Tymers, with Baby) and the rhymes of marquee stars Juvenile and B.G. (who joined Wayne and a fourth rapper, Turk, in the label’s supergroup, the Hot Boys). In 2001, though, the team started to splinter. Juve left first, claiming Baby owed him money, and set up his own label. (He’d return to fulfill contractual requirements in 2003 and achieve massive success with the single “Slow Motion,” only to leave again soon after, and with more angry words.) B.G. followed suit, and then Turk, and, finally, last year, Mannie. Cash Money sales had been slipping, and a lot of people thought it was curtains for the company.
It would have been, probably, if not for the amazing artistic growth Wayne has enjoyed over the past couple years. Quietly at first, with 2004’s Tha Carter, and then more emphatically, with last year’s platinum-certified Tha Carter II and two widely heralded installments of DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz street album series, Lil Wayne has made a convincing case for being, as he says, “The Best Rapper Alive.”
XXL recently caught up with Baby and Wayne in Miami, where they’ve relocated to in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. The love and loyalty was thick as the two detailed their history, fumed over former friends, discussed their current situation and pondered what the future might hold.
Let’s start at day one. Talk about your first connection and how it evolved.
B: I met Wayne when he was young, out there in front of Peaches record store. A lot of grown muthafuckas freeze up in my presence. The nigga didn’t have no fear. He rapped for like 10 minutes out there.
W: May 14, 1993. Friday. U.N.L.V. had just dropped “It’s an Uptown Thing” [officially, “Nigga I’m Bout It”].
At the time, did you want to be a rapper, or were you thinking, these are just some dudes doing it?
W: Baby and Cash Money was bigger than rap itself to me. I was twelve years old, so Cash Money Records was the world. When he gave me that number, it was like getting the direct number to the president… That card, just to go back to the hood with that card, niggas was like, “That’s the real card. It say Bryan ‘Baby’ Williams…” I called it every day. He told me to come to the office, and I ain’t never leave the office.
As an executive, did you feel you’d found someone you could put on the roster?
B: I knew we could grow up with him.
W: They made artists. It wasn’t no such thing as coming there and you already had a style. It was you became somebody. You could be whoever you was before you came there, but you came out Cash Money.
Obviously, the two of you have a really strong personal relationship with that paternal connection, something we don’t see a lot of in hip-hop. Tell me how that came about.
B: Over the years, we grew to be like the family shit. We all lived together. I was putting them through school and shit. I was bringing them to school. In New Orleans, it’s a lot of murders, right, so a lot of niggas don’t have daddies. I was young. I was 18 years old. I was a youngster growing up, trying to raise a youngster. I was in them streets trying to live and survive, ’cause I knew we had this dream… All I wanted them niggas to do was rap and just fuck with this music. I’d keep that drum machine on. I didn’t care if the fuckin’ electricity bill was $1,000 or $2,000. That bitch would not go off. That was school for us.
How many people were on the roster at that point in the early days?
W: It was three of us young. It was me, Turk and B.G. And Lil’ Derrick, may he rest in peace.
Growing up under Cash Money, how was it? Was it real brotherly among the younger generation?
W: Baby and Slim was the first people I met in Cash Money, and that’s what they showed me. It didn’t matter who came to the circle. You eat with that man, you die with that man. Once he leaves that table and he ain’t eating with you, then fuck him. He not family no more. That chair is at the table, empty.
As the other guys started to leave, did you want to keep it together, for either professional or personal reasons?
B: I reached for every last one of them niggas. Juve bitched out, left me a message, talking ’bout a nigga wanted to kill him. He hoed up from the gate, so I ain’t even fuck with him.
He said you wanted to kill him?
B: Said I sent some niggas at him. I don’t know what he was talking ’bout. But he the only nigga I ain’t reached out to. The only reason we got back and did an album was because he putting all that bullshit out and that shit wasn’t selling. So the best option was for him to come back. And you see the success of his comeback to the success of him right now—he ain’t no success right now. He’s a failure with that bullshit. I reached out to Geezy a few times. “Nigga, what’s up? This me, nigga. You on my skin, nigga. What’s up?” He ain’t really wasn’t talking ’bout nothing. And the bitch Fresh, he ain’t really want to holla at a nigga.
But still, maybe you wanna keep it together for the sake of the business?
B: I would have if I could have, but I didn’t see that it could happen. Every nigga had their own personal problems, but camouflaged a lot that shit by them being young. A lot of niggas had issues. But when the money came in, it made the issues worse. For the niggas to last as long as they did, they did a lot. I just looked at it like, once niggas got older, they become themselves. I already knew certain niggas had they own issues. I knew the shit might end up sour. But don’t nobody want to see some blood. Every fuckin’ artist talking about they wanna fight. Man, get the fuck outta my face with that lame shit. I still don’t have no beef, ’cause ain’t nobody trying to see no blood.
Were you ever thinking, before everybody started griping and leaving—especially with B.G. and the drug situation—did you ever think, I’m not going to fuck with you until you fix this?
B: Nah, I know where he come from. That’s our soul. I’m riding for this here. I was just hoping maybe one day he get his mind right.
Did you ever think of cutting him off?
B: We wasn’t cut from that. I never thought like that. Them niggas woulda had to leave me. I would never leave them. I felt like I wasn’t doing no nigga wrong. We hustling. We come from nothing. Bitch, I had you when you was eight years old. I’m the one put the money into you and raised ya, nigga… And when I see and hear this nigga popping like he popping—out of respect, out of just respect, out of you being 7, 8 years old, out of respect… This bitch get on TV and say a nigga a buster. How the fuck you gon’ fix your mouth to call a nigga a buster? Bitch, I’ll have niggas go in your pocket and take your shit. Niggas is fugazi. Nigga a four-dollar bill, homie. Heard me? Get dough and holla at me. He small. He don’t want the whole thing. The nigga petty. He don’t want the whole thing.
Read the rest of our interview with Baby & Wayne in XXL’s
December 2006 issue (#87)