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Lil Wayne

Lil Wayne is one of the best-known rappers from New Orleans, having reached the status of a global celebrity.

Lil Wayne

Courtesy of Gary LoVerde

Lil Wayne performing at Voodoo Fest in 2008. LoVerde, Gary (photographer)

Lil Wayne is one of the best-known rappers from New Orleans, having achieved commercial success as a teenager. Though the Crescent City plays a marginal role in the style and lyrical content of his music, he is one of the few artists from the city (alongside Louis Armstrong and Antoine “Fats” Domino) to reach the status of a global celebrity. Lil Wayne began releasing material on the Cash Money Records label as a member of the group Hot Boys in the mid-1990s, and released his first solo album, Tha Block is Hot, in 1999. Since then, he has collaborated with many other artists in the production of “mix tapes,” appeared as a guest performer on numerous songs, and released several highly successful solo albums. Lil Wayne is particularly known for delivering witty wordplay about serious urban issues such as crime, racism, and violence.

Lil Wayne was born Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. on September 27, 1982, in New Orleans. His mother, Jacita Carter, was still a teenager at the time of his birth, and his father, Dwayne, played little to no role in his upbringing. Raised by his grandmother in the Hollygrove neighborhood of New Orleans, he auditioned for Cash Money CEO Bryan “Baby” Williams and became, at the age of eleven, the youngest member of the label’s roster. He was paired with fellow New Orleans rapper Christopher “B.G.” Dorsey in the duo B.G.z, which released an album in 1995. Several years later, he left high school to pursue his recording career.

Along with B.G., Terius “Juvenile” Gray, and Turk, Lil Wayne was a member of the group Hot Boys, which released the moderately successful debut, Get It How U Live in 1997. Sales of their next album, Guerilla Warfare (1999), benefited from Cash Money’s new distribution deal with Universal. Driven by the singles “I Need a Hot Girl” and “We on Fire,” it climbed the Billboard chart for the top 200 pop albums and sold more than two million copies. Lil Wayne’s solo album debut, Tha Block is Hot (1999), also sold more than a million copies. His guest appearances on other Cash Money hits included B.G.’s “Bling Bling” and Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up.” Lil Wayne’s follow-up efforts, Lights Out (2000) and 500 Degreez (2002), each sold more than half a million copies, but failed to match the success of his first album. That changed with his 2004 album Tha Carter, which achieved platinum sales driven by the single “Go D.J.” His 2005 sequel Tha Carter II reached double-platinum sales, fueled by the hit single “Fireman.”

Lil Wayne is the only artist from Cash Money’s late 1990s heyday to remain on the roster, and he remains close to the Williams brothers, who named him president of the label in 2005. In late 2006, he and Baby released the album Like Father, Like Son. He founded the offshoot label Young Money Entertainment, which has released music by Nicki Minaj and Drake as well as several New Orleans-based artists. After Hurricane Katrina, Lil Wayne relocated to Miami along with Bryan “Baby” Williams. In recent years, he remains active on his own official releases, on mix tapes that include three installments each of “Da Drought” and “Dedication,” the latter produced by Atlanta’s DJ Drama, and many unofficial recordings circulating on the Internet. He has collaborated extensively with singer T-Pain, among others. His 2008 album Tha Carter III achieved phenomenal success, driven by the danceable “Lollipop” and the idiosyncratic “A Milli.” The album sold more than a million copies in its first week, and has since been certified triple platinum. Nominated for eight Grammy awards (including Album of the Year), it won four, including Best Rap Album.

In 2010 Lil Wayne served eight months in jail in New York after conviction on charges stemming from a 2007 incident in which a loaded handgun was found on his tour bus. His album I Am Not a Human Being, recorded before he went to jail, reached the top of the Billboard album charts in late 2010.