What does a rapper look like when a rapper's in a roaster? You seen Lil Wayne lately? He's all alone in a zone. At the top of his game and feelin' no pain. Please say the "Baby." But please don't tell him he's hot.

Weezy FF&#kin' Baby is feeling like a star. Sure, he landed his first major deal at age 11 (as Cash Money Records’ youngest stunna), released his solo debut, 1999’s Tha Block Is Hot, at 17. He’s sold a million records twice (2004’s Tha Carter and 2005’s Tha Carter II), and, yes, he’s been calling himself the “best rapper alive” for three years now. But the success the 25-year-old New Orleanian has achieved over the past 12 months represents a new high.

At this point in history, as 2007 winds to a close, D’Wayne “Lil Wayne” Carter is indisputably the hottest MC in the game. (He’ll dispute the term “hot” himself, actually, but more on that later.) He’s accomplished this thanks to myriad mixtapes (the Dedication series, the Droughts, Tha Carter III Sessions) and a head-spinning number of remix verses, freestyles and collaborations that ensure fresh material is ever available. Even more impressive than the quantity, however, is the quality. With his witty punch-line fusillades and poetry-in-motion rants, Wayne has gone from being known more for his youth than his talent (he was considered, perhaps, the third-best lyricist in Cash Money’s Hot Boys quartet, after Juvenile and B.G.) to being widely hailed, in the press and by his peers alike, as a legitimate creative genius. In his words, he’s graduated “from hungry and made it to greedy.” Whether he’s a “whore” (as 50 Cent menacingly dubbed him) or not, no other artist has worked harder this year to win the hearts of rap fans, or done so as effectively.

XXL catches up with Wayne as he preps for the release of Tha Carter III. Though it’s his sixth solo album, it’s his premier project under a new alliance with Hip-Hop Since 1978, the management firm run by former Roc-A-Fella execs Kyambo “Hip-Hop” Joshua and Gee Roberson. (The duo also manages a certain Mr. Kanye West, who produced a track called “Comfortable” for Tha Carter III.) Expectations are higher than ever. Nothing less than the best from the best rapper alive, right? (As XXL was going to press, it was announced that the official album will hit stores in February 2008, though a souped-up collection of mixtape favorites and new songs, called Tha Carter III: The Leak, will arrive in stores in December.)

Seated on his tour bus outside the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Buckhead, Atlanta, during a drought (in the literal sense, as in no water) that’s about to be declared an official state of emergency by the Georgia government, the man who said he makes it rain seems oblivious to conditions around him. He’s completely immersed in the bubblelike confines of his own ego, ensconced within the walls of Wayne’s world. He recently shed his title of president of Cash Money and relinquished control of his imprint, Young Money, to tend to himself more and fully focus on his art. (And, hey, no one can say it’s not working.) Pompous yet passionate, the self-described “rapper-eater” vehemently stresses the difference between hotness and greatness, celebrates making a song with his idol Jay-Z and discusses his drug use, his work ethic and his emergence as a superstar. When you see him, make a wish.

In the past couple of years, you’ve won over lots of fans and critics. Your popularity has skyrocketed. What’s your mind-set right now with Tha Carter III coming out?
My mind-set is always the same. I’m never there. That’s the mind-set I stay with: You’re never there, until you’re there.

Where is there? Do you mean the top?
Who knows? Maybe the top isn’t where I need to be. But I just know one day I will be there. Wherever there should be. That’s what my mind frame is every day: working on getting there. You’re never there.

Tha Carter III is probably your most anticipated album. Do you sense that you have a different type of popularity now?
The difference is more… And people expect more. I want this shit to be the best. It ain’t even about being great. They want me to be better than something they can compare it to—whatever they compare it to. Whatever’s best, they want me to be that. That’s a great feeling, ’cause I know I gotta meet that quota every time. And it makes me try to be on my shit.

That pressure, does it—
Not at all, sweetheart. My mama taught me things backwards when I was small. Love was hate. Opposite. When you grow up, you find out what’s real, but you already used to the words… Trust me, I’m human, baby. I don’t want nobody looking like, “That nigga’s lying.” It’s pressure, but I’m different. Pressure to me may be a turn-on. I need that motivation. Pressure to somebody else is pressure.

In your last XXL interview, you said you weren’t concerned about sales, that you just wanted to make a great album.
Yeah, that’s very not important to me—sales. I’m not set out to be bought. I’m set out to be heard… I’m focused on making great music. Every time I step in the booth, there’s nothing else. I’m not trying to make a great album. I just try to make great music.

Your development as an artist surprised a lot of people. You went from being just another member of Cash Money to being recognized as a top lyricist in the game. Do you ever wonder how the perception of you has changed?
If I thought about that, I’d be the craziest dude in the world. ’Cause perception is from somebody else’s eyes. I can’t get in your head and see what you see, so why would I even care about what you see? Fuck what you see. I wish all you bitches was blind… A lotta people didn’t expect me to be this good. I like them just as well, because now that mean I have to be better for them. To blow their mind. Now I have to do something superstupid for them to be like, “Damn, I ain’t never knew you’d be this good.”

Have you felt the change from just a rapper to a superstar?
[Long pause] I’d be lying if I say I don’t. I’m trying to be modest. Yeah, I did. Because I carry myself different now. I dress different now. I act different. As far as behind the mic, though, no. Because I don’t look at myself as a superstar behind the mic. Never have. I look at myself as—I don’t know why I keep using these damn words—great or the best. As far as the skills part of it or the technical part of it, that’s the only thing that’s grown. It ain’t about I’ve grown into this superstar. It’s about I’ve grown into this person that people pay attention to. I’ve grown into this person that people expect from.

Is it hard to meet those expectations when you record so much material and with so many different artists? Is it hard to maintain high standards? Some people say you’re what makes those songs hot—
I’m what makes the song great. You can’t play “This Is Why I’m Hot” on the radio right now. They gon’ call up and be like, “What the hell is that?” [Sings the hook to last winter’s ubiquitous hit from Mims] This is why... That’s not hot. That’s old. You can play “Tha Block Is Hot.” Fuck my song. You can play Destiny’s Child “Soldier”! You could do that. That’s okay. You could play Lloyd’s “You.” Chris Brown. I don’t make hot music. I make great music. If I make hot music, then I been on fire for a long fuckin’ time. The flame is burning out, sweetheart. I’m not hot. I’m great.

Okay. The collaborations with nonrappers like Gym Class Heroes and Enrique Iglesias obviously expand your audience and increase your visibility. But do you think it could be damaging in any way?
No, I just think it’s setting a trend for music. Like, if you wanna be successful, you gotta work like shortie. You gon’ see him on the BET Awards. He gon’ perform twice on that bitch. On MTV Awards. He gon’ be on the pre-show performance. And then he gon’ come out with a new mixtape, and then he gon’ be on this person single. You gotta tackle it like I do. I think I’ma set that bar and have people thinking, man—

That working hard actually works.
Yeah. I set a bar for everybody, mentally. Everybody in the game. I say mental bar ’cause of what I think they can or can’t do. ’Cause I don’t know what nobody can do. I don’t think nobody knows what they can do ’til they do it… A lotta people have better situations than I, and they know that. People look at me like, “I can do that.” Work that hard. Work like Wayne. I’m changing it. It used to be, “Work like Jamaicans.” Work like Wayne.

[Laughs] 50 called you an industry whore because of all your guest verses. Is there anybody you would turn down doing a record with?
Hell no. Whores get paid. I don’t care. It’s music, let’s make it. I’ll only turn you down if you ain’t got the price. I’ll turn you down and away.

Some people think you’re oversaturating the market, though. Have you ever thought about that?
Listen. [Leans in, speaking directly into the recorder] Darling, I don’t care what nobody think. Talk to me like you talking to Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. You’re not about to ask him about what he think about what somebody said about him. You ’bout to ask him about his greatness, and his greatness only. I don’t care what nobody think. If I did, you wouldn’t be sitting on my muthafuckin’ million-dollar bus in my 15th year at the same muthafuckin’ company and business. I’m a role model. You should get like me. Get like you? No. Get like me. Ya understand me? I’m not hot. Hot dies out. Baby, I’m me. Who the fuck done this? Nobody. Compare me to people that’s not even living, baby. And they didn’t even do it—what they comparing me to. No disrespect to them. You found songs on those people after they died. I’m still living.

THIS IS ONLY A PREVIEW! Check out XXL's January/February issue to read our full Q&A with Weezy!

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