I’d like to take a moment to remember Lil Wayne. He’s not dead yet, physically speaking, but his brush with death on Friday reminded me of what we’ll be losing if and when he is gone.
It’s particularly saddening that we might lose Lil Wayne at this moment in history, because the man born Dwayne Michael Carter, at least the one who existed from 2002 – 2008, was a genius and deserves to be remembered as more than a codeine junky who made pop songs that your White friends loved.
On Friday, TMZ reported that the legendary New Orleans rapper had been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after being discovered “shaking uncontrollably” and “unconscious” on a jet flying out of Los Angeles.
He reportedly almost died, and even if Lil Wayne’s latest seizure doesn’t kill him, which from all accounts it won’t, his behavior suggests he’s lucky to have made it this far and his luck may be running out quickly. The codeine-saturated syrup that has become synonymous with Wayne’s name and music has previously taken the lives of hip hop legends Pimp C and DJ Screw.
And it’s already affected Wayne’s music. The Lil Wayne whose music and lyrics mesmerized myself and millions of other hip hop aficionados has been dead and gone for years.
He was, for a time, the best rapper alive and one of the most astonishing and impressive lyricists in the world. He put together similes and metaphors like a wordsmith and at his absolute best no one could touch him, not another rapper, not a journalist not a poet not a novelist. He was that good.
He had an ability to move from witty and humorous to devastatingly serious on the same song, often in the same verse and occasionally in the same line. Almost all of that is missing in his music today.
That’s why when the world erupted over his indefensibly foul and deplorable lyric about Emmett Till recently, I wasn’t surprised. The line wasn’t intended to be offensive or even controversial, it was just lazy. Wayne needed a new metaphor for being good at sex so why not take a stab at the long dead civil rights legend?
That’s his signature these days – sloppy wordplay, thoughtless rhymes and an often crude obsession with female genitalia.
In his heyday, Wayne incorporated elements of pop culture, underground street life, Christian imagery and boss-level braggadocio into his rhymes. He was, as Time Magazine hailed him in 2008, “a savant who merges sex, drugs and politics with a sneaky intellect, a freakish knowledge of pop culture and a voice out of the Delta.”
In addition to being a more than capable lyricist, Wayne was a marvel of musical endurance. He’s recorded and released more music than seemingly any artist in the history of the recording industry. In 2007, Billboard reported that he released 77 songs. That didn’t even include guest appearances on other artists’ music.
A lot of Weezy fans haven’t even heard his most impressive rhymes because much of his best material wasn’t found on his albums. He put it on rare and obscure mixtapes that he gave away for free on the internet. Some of the best rapping he ever did was released digitally on compilation series like “Dedication,” “The Leak,” “The W Carter” and “Da Drought,” all of which had at least one sequel. He released more than 20 official mixtapes and there’s an almost infinite catalog of unofficial releases online.
Despite his penchant for giving his work away, Lil Wayne’s ability to churn out quality, thought-provoking and popular verses time and time again still made him the undisputed king of Billboard. In addition to all the mixtapes, during his 14-year career he also released nine major label solo albums and seven others with groups like The Hot Boyz and Young Money. In September he passed Elvis Presley as the man with the most entries on the Billboard 100 chart with 109. The designation happened on his 30th birthday.
At his apex, his rhymes were a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar, a fusion of the many worlds in which he existed. There was the world of high society and lavish expenditures; the world of his gritty New Orleans upbringing; the world of his inner circle, the Cash Money/Young Money family whom he often referenced; and the world of sports, celebrities and current events that fill news headlines.
I’m not sure whether it was drugs, fame or his obsession with money and rap’s number one spot that took him from us, but the man whose ability to fill a 16 with lyrics that left us all awestruck has been gone for some time.
I hope Wayne can kick his syrup habit, get back to making great music and live a long, healthy life. Unfortunately, we’ve seen this movie before and it seldom ends with the protagonist having an epiphany and turning it all around.
He suffered multiple seizures a few days before the one he suffered on Friday, according to a number of sources quoted by TMZ, and even that wasn’t the first time.
“Wayne’s latest seizures follow an unfortunate pattern – he dealt with seizure-like symptoms while traveling on a private jet last October. The plane made an emergency landing in Texas, and Wayne was taken to a local hospital,” reported Rolling Stone.
TMZ also wrote of this latest incident that “sources say there’s evidence Wayne went on a Sizzurp binge after being released from the hospital on Wednesday, because doctors found high amounts of codeine in his system. Wanye’s stomach was pumped 3 times to flush the drugs from his system.”
Things don’t look bright for Wayne, but, in truth, they haven’t for some time.
But here’s hoping that he makes it, and if he doesn’t, I hope history at least remembers the brilliance of who he was, because at his best he was one of the best we’ve ever heard.