Wayne didn’t invent the mixtape. But he did unquestionably bring it to its current prominence. And he did set a guiding line for young artists like Lil B, Odd Future and A$AP Mob to gain fame through large amounts of free music released online. You think Lil B is releasing 10 mixtapes in 2010 without Lil Wayne’s 2007? Do you think the attention and care that Odd Future put into their own downloads, creating free full-length albums like Frank Ocean’s Nolstagia, Ultra and Tyler, the Creator’s Bastard, is happening without Lil Wayne’s 2007?
Today, Wayne’s talents are not at the level they were five years ago. The prison stay was disastrous to the career. There’s an uncomfortable case to be made this his decision to quit drugs and go sober has hurt him creatively. (Let’s face it: Half the verses from ‘07 would have been impossible without a severely drug-addled mind rapping them.) But more importantly, Wayne got away from the philosophy of constant work, constant release. He became a mogul, creating YMCMB and signing artists like Drake and Nicki Minaj. He released a clothing line, Trukfit. He has become, in many ways, like the rappers he slammed in that April YouTube clip. 2007 will be his last great moment.
Lil Wayne’s 2007 didn’t end with The Carter III Sessions. He kept releasing free music, even though by September he probably could have sh*t on a record, called it “The Carter III” and sold 1.6 million copies in its first week.
Weezy came out with New Orleans Nightmare Part 5 in September, The Drought is Over Part 4 in October, and The Leak, an EP that contained songs intended for The Carter III, in December. (Note: There is a decent chance that Wayne had little to nothing to do with the release of DJ White Owl's New Orleans Nightmare.) Wayne was beginning to exhibit signs that he was creatively spent. Many of the songs were rightful cast-offs from the upcoming Carter III, and he showed an early tendency of abusing the auto-tune.
Still, he was capable of brilliance, especially on the Drought is Over Part 4. “Trouble” isn’t as out-there as some of his other 2007 work, but it’s a vivid look at drug dealers and crack slinging and growing up broke. Certainly well-worn territory for rappers, but with the songs sirens, rapid-fire beat, and constant examples of death in his old neighborhood, it stacks up with early Biggie. “Brand New,” meanwhile, has Wayne’s voice barely registering above the beat, but it’s still all hilarious boasting—how he’s as cold as a “Midnight in Aspen,” how he’s “the president and the assassin.” You don’t have to be the loudest guy in the room, he seems to be saying, to be the Man.
The last release of the year came as a happy accident. Five songs destined for the Carter III were leaked early onto the Internet, and Wayne just released them on Christmas as an extended play, "The Leak." By that tape, I, and everyone I knew, looked more forward to The Carter III than any other 2008 pop culture event. It was unprecendented—the guy hadn't relased an album in almost three years. But his famous boast that he had repeated on The Carter II and on the Dedication Part 2 wasn’t so ridiculous. He was the best rapper alive.
“You should get like me. Get like you? No. Get like me,” Wayne told a hapless interviewer in December of ‘07. “Ya understand me? I’m not hot. Hot dies out. Baby, I’m me. Who the f*ck 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.”
Let's remember that.
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