Art by Kim Erlandsen, NRK P3
In late 2014, Nylon sent me to Miami to write a cover story on Lil Wayne. The original idea was to have me interview him in LA, but he canceled about three times, and decided that he was temporarily finished with the West Coast. He wasn’t leaving Miami anytime soon, so Miami it was. I packed every pink shirt I own (one), the magazine booked me two nights in a modestly priced South Beach hotel, and I was instructed that at any point in that 48 hour window, I should be ready to talk to Wayne.
I’d already interviewed him earlier that summer for XXL, so I had a vague idea what to expect. When you’ve been famous that long, there aren’t any questions that you haven’t been asked. He’ll talk to you about the Packers running game for 20 minutes, but rightfully lacks the desire to discuss “the process.” I didn’t exactly expect him to divulge the darkest secrets of his psyche or what exactly Birdman did to stop Carter 5 from seeing the light of day. On some level, this is a man who has been famous for nearly 20 years, since he was old enough to drive a car; he’s all too aware of the potential repercussions of telling the entire truth. But if you show the requisite amount of knowledge and respect, he can be as real as reasonably expected.
This interview came before the lawsuits against Cash Money, the Barter 6 beef with Young Thug, the second wave of seizures. If you’re interested in what Lil Wayne’s mansion looks like, the original article is still online. It’s a 15,000 square foot, $11 million lunar shrine inside a gated community on La Gorce Island. A security guard grilled me as soon as I stepped out the Uber and made me call the publicist just to assure him that I wasn’t some crazed super fan under the delusion that Wayne had been sending me secret messages through “”Tha Mobb.”
The interior was covered in plaques, photos, memorabilia, and Lil Wayne as the Nevermind baby. Basquiat paintings and Andy Warhol “Marilyn” silk screens. A baby grand piano underneath 50-foot ceilings. Guitars art and mythology books, a telescope, framed photos of Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Bob Marley, Wayne’s children, and pin-up girl collages.
When I arrived at 10 p.m., Wayne was still asleep. When he woke up, he told his reps that he had a headache so we didn’t even start talking until about midnight — when I was summoned to enter his skate rat man cave in another wing of the house. His personal chef cooked him spaghetti and meatballs and canned corn, while we watched the Trail Blazers beat Houston. He smoked four blunts and didn’t pass it once. When I told my mom a few days later, she was appalled.
The lack of weed etiquette was expected. Wayne was legitimately on another planet. For one, I’ve never seen anyone that exhausted. He was in a complete fugue state for the first half hour, as though he had no idea about the day, month, or decade. The only thing that excited him was the prospect of skating with a bunch of teenagers at a high school that night from 4 to 6 a.m. Talking to Wayne was like talking to an ancient alien. It seemed like he had just woken up from a 300 year nap, only to discover that he’d become the most influential person since Ben Franklin (what the F in Weezy F. Baby stands for). He clearly understood his importance and the sacrifices it took to get here, but seemed distressed that no one would ever really understand him. He might be right.
It’s unsurprising that he wants to retire now because he wanted to retire then. Of course, it’ll be shocking if he retires, because no one actually retires. I wouldn’t be surprised if Carter V comes out this week.
As for his impact and legacy, you don’t need me to explain. You can read the tweets from Young Thug, Chance or Flying Lotus or talk to anyone from the ages of 18 to 34. I’m running this interview in full because it seems to conveys his sense of fatigue and creative future. There are random asides about the Hot Boys and “Georgia Bush.” In the interests of preserving his reputation, I left out the part of the transcript where he endorses Byron Scott. He’s earned it.
Your manager Cortez Byrant] said that you’ve been on a crazy recording tear over the last couple months.
Lil Wayne: Yeah, I guess. I’m always on a crazy tear recording.
He said you’ve made 52 songs for Carter V?
Lil Wayne: I lost count.
Do you notice any difference in your creative head space between recording in LA or Miami or New Orleans?
Lil Wayne: It’s just life period. Life changes everyday. For me, I don’t write music. I don’t write it down. I just go from whatever comes up in my head and whatever rhymes with the next word. Therefore, I speak about whatever the subject may be. I speak on what I’m feeling and my music and my music and my creativity relies heavily on feeling and what I’m feeling and how I’m feeling and growth and maturity. Every day is a new day, so as far as creative place, that would be for an observer to say. So I guess, the things [Cortez] has been hearing from when I got to LA, would suggest that I’m in a different space.
But if you ask me what it was, I’d say yes, it was LA, it was the place. But I’d say that I don’t know too much about LA is that all I had to do when I was there is go home and then go back to the studio and then go home and then go back to the studio. So I guess the creative space I’m in is a quote-on-quote ‘zone.’
Does Miami feel more like home?
Lil Wayne: Yes, that’s what it feels like. I’d imagine that the creativity from here comes from a more relaxed standpoint or something like that. Whereas in LA, I have to be productive every single day.
For me, I don’t think I stop to smell the roses or pay attention to where I’m at – the environment – but it’s the truth. Where you’re at does make a difference. I did one of the Carters overseas and that made a big difference. I did a lot of recording in Amsterdam. I guess like ‘Tez says, this is my very first time being in LA so much, I guess that difference comes out in the music. But like I said, if you ask me, the artist, I don’t stop to smell the roses, I’m just being me wherever I’m at.
Where do you think you’re at as an artist right now?
Lil Wayne: As far as creative, where I’m at right now, I never want to say this word, but, it’s easy. And it’s so easy that it’s complicated.
I’m sure you’re constantly trying to do stuff that you have’t done.
Lil Wayne: Exactly. If not, what’s the reason to even do it. So like you said, I’m trying to always be new and try to outshine what I’ve done and be better than the last thing, but that’s just growth. As far as where I’m at, I’m just catching vibes, if the song doesn’t already have a subject already or if the song doesn’t bring something out of me, then just put the song on and watch me go and watch me make the most of whatever I do with it.
This time around, the biggest difference is perfection. Me going back and back and wanting to re-touch this or that. I do little things from change the word ‘because’ to the word ‘but’ or change ‘is’ to ‘are.’ Things like that. I never gave a fuck about that type of shit. I always said before, if they don’t understand what I just said before, than they just don’t understand me. So with that, I always was like you’re from the south, this is your drawl, and if they don’t understand or get it, then you’re just misunderstood.
I’ve settled with that, but for now, this time around, I want to be more understood. I want them to understand a lot more. Therefore, I don’t want to say I’m simplifying things because I never simplify shit, but even if it is difficult to understand me, I’m making it a lot easier to comprehend.
What do you think people still don’t understand about you?
Lil Wayne: As far as about myself, I don’t think that matters to the fans and listeners. I don’t think who I am, it don’t matter. I come from the era where music was music and that’s all you care about. You care about what you’re hearing, the art, the craft, you don’t dig any deeper into a person’s day to day.
So as far the person or individual that I am, what they don’t understand about me doesn’t even matter. What they don’t understand about my music or my craft – whatever they think that they don’t understand, that’s on me because I made it too damn difficult for them to understand.
When you first starting going on that run with Carter I, a lot of people considered the idea of being a mainstream “lyrical rapper” to be out of favor. Jay was retired. Eminem was dealing with his drug problem and a lot of people said that you brought it back in a way. Looking back now, how big of a part do you think you played in that?
Lil Wayne: Oh yeah. I know for a fact if you put ears to my shit, you’re going to hear my effort, my creativity. When I’m visualizing my music, I never try to make my music for the people or the crew that I’m always with to understand me. This isn’t for them, because they don’t understand anything that I say or anything that I do.
So I always envision being on-stage with a million people in front of me who don’t know the fuck who I am or my history or music. Therefore, all they know is what I’m about to say and therefore, I better say something great.
This time around, I’m trying to combine all my sides into one. It’s not about making, don’t forget, ‘let’s make this for the mixtape lovers,’ this one is for the rock lovers, this one is for the, nah, this one is for the Wayne lovers. Carter V is for the people that love me. Period. I love the mixtapes. I love every time you kill a feature. That’s who this album is for. There’s a little bit of everything om this motherfucker.
It’s not, here’s a rock song, it’s not, boom, here’s Wayne doing his singing thing. It’s like, no, if he’s singing on this shit then he’s got a verse on this bitch too. And if he is singing then he’s talking some shit, and then, oh shit, that’s him on the guitar too. I mean, shit like that. I want the fan to be like, ‘that’s not surprising to me.” Because they’re a wayne fan and that’s what they expect their 2014-15 wayne to be like – again – the best. Nobody’s fucking with me. That’s what my music and my album will evolve as. I don’t want it to be like, rap is back. I want it to be like, this is not surprising me. You’re the best, okay we get it. We know. We know you’re the best. No one else could do half of what you’re doing.
Is it difficult to live up to those ambitions?
Lil Wayne: For them. For them.
I know you know how good you are, but sometimes it still has to feel difficult.
Lil Wayne: It does. It is very hard to stand behind and in front of this shit that I’m talking about. To keep going period. It is difficult.
I know you were talking about retiring.
Lil Wayne: I mean it.
Any timetable? I know you were originally going to retire after C5.
Lil Wayne: I don’t have a time limit because C5 wasn’t originally supposed to come out right now.
When was it supposed to come out?
Lil Wayne: No time exactly. What happened was that I didn’t know there was this type of demand for it. I didn’t start working on it until we all just sat down and said, they really want the Carter 5.
Did you think about Carter 4 and the previous installments in the series while you were recording it.
Lil Wayne: I always do. I listen to 4, 3. All of them. I focus on the last ones – 4 and 3. And I always go back and listen to Carter 1 to see what the foundation was. I like to keep a consistency of some type of shit how the album is going. Therefore, if I ever wanted to sit down and listen to 1,2,3,4,5. It feels like I’m watching a movie from 1,2,3,4,5 and fortunately, it gets better not worse.
Cortez said you’re working with Mannie Fresh again.
Lil Wayne: Oh yeah yeah, we working with Fresh again. He got two joints on there.
Do you feel like working with Mannie Fresh again brings out that earlier side of you?
Lil Wayne: Mannie’s music, by me being who I am and having that history with him, it’s always going to bring out whatever it brings out of me creatively. By being for this project, it made it triple that of what it is. I went that much harder. Instead of getting just a Mannie beat and just…
What’s your day to day like in Miami. Do you skate a lot here?
Lil Wayne: I’ve been skating since I got off tour. While I was recording the album, I was skating every day. I still do the same damn shit – still skating. SASRAF…S-A-S-R-A-F. Smoke and skate and rap and fuck.
How did you first get into skating?
Lil Wayne: Watching some damn TV shit. This shit, I had flipped it to Fuse and early in the morning, they used to have a show called Camp Woodward and it’s about Woodward. If you know anything about skating, you know who Woodward is. They had a little kid on their named Alex Middler. His spirit is so fucking awesome and it’s so awesome that he made a nigga from the motherfucking streets pick up a skateboard and fall in love with it. He just love it. It’s like watching Tony Hawk but as a 9 year old. It was too contagious. He’s one of my close little homies now. Real cool. Shout out to Alex. His mom and dad too. I’ve been to his house and skated there.
He was at the show in LA. That’s the reason why. Watching this little bigga, I was like damn, he’s having fun. He’s so happy. I don’t know man. I don’t people shun it, not skating, but me skating. To them it may sound stupid when I say it, but to me, it’s a calling. I watch TV all day and I don’t pick up a basketball or a football.
I used to ride a bike, a BMX. I used to fuck with that heavy. But I didn’t go and pick up another bike even though I had magazine covers riding the BMX back in the day.
What tricks can you do?
Lil Wayne: I progress every day. It ain’t no different. Tonight I’m going, for there’s a 5 stair at this school we go to. Obviously. We have to stick it before 6 when the kids get back and the principal get in. But there’s a 5-stair over there and tonight I’m going to work on that pop shove it and the fakie on the five stair, and hopefully land that, if not, kill myself trying.
Cortez said you had a black eye at the photo shoot.
Lil Wayne: That healed. I was four sliding and I went at it very lacksadasical and tired and I slipped out and hit my eye on the ramp.
How you like the Pack this year?
Lil Wayne: We going all the way. We definitely going to win our division. I don’t know how we’re going to do after that.
When you went to jail, you were on probation for a minute afterwards and couldn’t smoke. Was that killing you?
Lil Wayne: I tried not to think about it. I did a whole bunch of shit that took me away from it, but I got through it.
Do you believe it still helps your creativity?
Lil Wayne: I’m sure it does, but in what way I’m not sure. It helps me. I know I need it. It’s not about being creative. I know I need it extra when I’m creating, but I need the weed period. It helps in a major way.
Did jail change you in any permanent way?
Lil Wayne: I wasn’t there long enough, I didn’t do nothing like that, but the people in there, you know what I mean, everything changes you when you go through something like that. I don’t think I went in there and came out a different person. I know I went in there 138 and came out 152. That was the only change I knew in there.
Were you lifting in there?
Lil Wayne: No, it was all fat. I didn’t work out one day in that bitch.
Were you writing in there?
Lil Wayne: Yeah, that was my studio time. That’s how I went to the studio, in my tablet. Because I don’t write, so that was how I recorded, writing my shit down.
People were obviously very concerned when you went into the hospital for seizures. Did that change the way you approached or live your life in any way?
Lil Wayne: I don’t think that did too much. I don’t think I was at one of those points where I valued life or saw it differently. I just was like, ‘oh shit, what the fuck just happened. Okay, I’m okay.’ At the same time, I wasn’t aware of anything. It just happened and I woke up in the hospital. That’s what happened to me. The experience of it, I don’t remember anything. I just fell asleep and woke up in the hospital the next day.
As far as valuing life more or less, I never go to that point. It never felt that drastic to me, but it felt like that in the news. It might have been the reality, but to me, I was just the guy in the hospital chilling. But I definitely respect every single person that came to see me and wrote me. For some people it really took a lot for them to get to me and a lot out of their busy ass schedules and agenda to check in on me and see if I’m alright in that motherfucker.
To me, that made a difference — just knowing that motherfuckers gave a fuck about a nigga. You think that your regular fans and your regular family is the only motherfuckers that care about you until something like that happens – and then you’re like, oh shit, some of these motherfuckers that you just dap off and say what’s up to you, actually really give a fuck about you.
If anything, that was bout it. Like I said, I don’t mean to sound bad, but it wasn’t no life changing thing. I shot myself when I was 12, so I’ve seen way worse.
When Lil Slim first brought you to Birdman as a kid, what did you want out of life at that point?
Lil Wayne: I had no goals then. If there were any goals, I had already succeeded by meeting Baby and him giving me a card and actually talking to me. At 12, I honestly was just getting in where I fit in and I was always ready for the call. That’s the best way to explain it; Wayne’s always ready and when it’s my turn, I make way more than the most of it. So therefore, when you’re ready when they call you and you make the most of your time when they call you, then they’re never going to stop calling you.
You’ve written political songs in your career, most notably, ‘Georgia Bush.” Is politics something that you regularly think about and do you follow it in any way?
Lil Wayne: No, I don’t. The George Bush song was simply strictly coming from a New Orleans native point of view. Just flat-out having Hurricane Katrina victim type shit. I don’t want to front, I’ve never been political. I’m just a regular street nigga that’s a little bit smarter than the rest. So when I talk about it, it may sound like I know what the hell I’m talking about. But I’m still a regular street nigga talking about the same shit that regular street niggas talk about it. Who got killed yesterday. Who got fucked today. That’s about it.
Do you feel like it’s harder to remember that perspective because fame insulates you from those street realities of your past?
Lil Wayne: Yeah, we was talking about the other day — me and the homies — we was talking about artists and I was saying how, exactly what you just said, well, when you write music, it’s so easy when you write music, it’s easy for you to write to a subject. What I mean by that, a person who writes a book – they can be 40 years old and write a kids book. Because if the book is about the tree that talks, then you can stick to the same subject.
But see, I don’t write music, so I don’t have subjects. My music, I just start rapping – we find something within what I just said and we make a song and a subject out of it. So to answer your question – basically, me as I grow and things change, it’s kinda hard for me to continue to be a ‘street nigga’ when I’m so far away from it. But I got street niggas around me and I can’t be nobody but who I am. Therefore, it’s obvious to me, that no matter how far you go, you still going to be who the hell you are. So I’m still going to br able to make a good ass kids book. [laughs]
As you’ve gotten older, have you ever felt the pressures to conform to the idea of what commercial radio rap sounds like?
Lil Wayne: You know for some reason, my whole career, I’m an intimidating figure and have an intimidating presence. My whole career – whatever or whoever I’ve come across – I’ve come across that way. So fortunately, I never had that, man. I never had that. All the sways and swings and ways I turn, that’s all me. I never had nobody say, “Lollipop” is the way you need to go. All the songs need to be like that. I never had anyone be like “Shooter” is the way your songs should be. Rebirth is the way Lil Wayne should go. I never had nobody try to make me like this or that, or sway me this way.
Everyone always let me do what I do and be who I be. I blame it on intimidation, they may blame it on creativity. They may say you’re so creative, we just let you do what the fuck you want to do. Because everything you create, I don’t want to say it’s great, but it’s definitely not bad.
But it’s definitely hard to keep that inner child, but it’s not hard for me. From day one, I’ve always been doing what I want to do. The only time I was ever swayed to do something was when we were all the Hot Boys and I had to do what Baby said, we all had to wear white t-shirts and rap to a subject. That was when, I still didn’t write then, but that was when we had subjects – and Baby told us, this is a song about ‘Tuesdays and Thursday.’
That song dropped a lot of knowledge for those who didn’t know.
Lil Wayne: Imagine me though, the only thing I know about Tuesdays and Thursdays is that they’re school days. My home work had to be turned in. So they had to explain that sit to me, 12 years old, Tuesdays and Thutsdays, what the fuck is a Tuesday and Thursday and they’re like, ‘oh, that’s when the police come in.’
I’m like man, if the police coming through my hood for Tuesday and Thursdays, it’s for truancy. So I used to have the make the most of that shit man. Man, let me just say what the fuck come to my mind because I don’t know what the fuck they talking about.
But that was another cool thing about Baby and them, because they never made a nigga lie. At any given time, they could’ve been like, you gonna say this. They always told a nigga, Tuesdays and Thursday is when the police come, blasé blasé blah, they jump out, and I was like, yeah, I’ve seen them do it. But I never noticed the day that it happened though.
But they let me be be and therefore, you had Juvenile’s view as an adult on “Tuesdays and Thursdays.” Someone really dealing with watching out for the police and you get a BG opinion who really out there selling it, so he knows exactly what they talking about, and then you got Turk, he live in the projects. His idea of a Tuesday and Thursday is crazy too because he’s seeing shit — and then you get a 12 year-olds point of view.
So when we had big ass songs like “Fuck the World” and I had the biggest verse in there. Like ‘second verse, I don’t curse..’ Nut in this verse, that was cool because they never said, we want you to talk about this. It was like because this is a song called ‘Fuck the World.’ Juvie gonna talk about how bad the project system is and how people need rent money and all that. BG gonna talk about how bad the streets is and how niggas is getting killed. Turk is gonna talk about how these hoes is and what’s going on in his family.
Me? All I can talk about it is what were talking about in class. I went to a damn good school so I talks about the politics.
Mack Maine was one of the best public schools in New Orleans?
Lil Wayne: Yes, within the top 5.
Did you have any favorite subjects?
Lil Wayne: Science.
You got the telescope outside.
Lil Wayne: That was a gift. That was a damn good gift too. I just always felt like we’re being lied too. Science tells us the truth, so I was always into science. When reading was a subject, I liked it. Then it changed to English, I didn’t like it.
Is there any secret to longevity in rap?
Lil Wayne: You gotta be unforgettable. The only way to be unforgettable is to be consistent. And the only way to be consistent is to be good. If you have none of these things, then you have a shot, but it’s about it, and who remembers that shot and how loud was it. And as time goes on and away, the loudness of that shot fades, until one day you forget who shot the thing unless you’re consistent, good and unforgettable and they’re going to feel that every time that you shoot.
That theme of greatness is everywhere in your songs.
Lil Wayne: When I first started doing it, you only did it if you wanted to be the best. There was no such thing as doing it to have a hot song. To do it to have a hot song was for the comedians – that was for those to have a funny song.
Like Afro Man.
Lil Wayne: Yeah, that’s how it was back then. Now, unfortunately, you don’t have to want to be the best these damn days – they doing it for popularity, for shows, for walk-throughs, for Instagram, for Twitter. They doing it to be known and not fort the future and not to be incredible or consistency or any of that. They doing it for someone to know.
It’s this like this year’s model.
Lil Wayne: Yup. But you know. I’m right there still in it and dealing with it with them.
When did that sense of destiny and feeling to be the greatest come to you? Squad Up. Carter I?<
Squad Up. That’s when it came to me.
Was there a moment or over a period of month<
Lil Wayne: 2004. That was the day I stopped writing. Whatever day that was that I got confidence enough to know that I don’t need to write this shit no more. And that’s the day everything changed.
I feel like even being the best rapper is limiting in a sense sometimes. It should be about being the best artist. I was sitting out in your living room and you had the paintings of Basquiat and Warhol. The images of Hendrix, Bob Marley, and the Nirvana baby, but no rappers.
Who do you think was the best artist in hip-hop?
Lil Wayne: I mean, if anything, you already know who. It would be Biggie. Man, Biggie, that’s the best ever to do it.
There’s a statement a “words without thought, never to heaven go.” Do you disagree with that idea?
Lil Wayne: If there’s no thought in it, then you didn’t mean it. And if you didn’t mean it, then you can’t be blamed. And the only person who can judge you is God. It’s like being in court. If this person didn’t know what he was doing when he did it, then sometimes you walk. That’s what I get from it.
Has your relationship with God evolved as you’ve gotten older?
Lil Wayne: I guess, like everyone else, as you get older, shit gets more real to you. Reality, bills and children and things like that. Things that you pray for don’t happen. And things that you pray don’t happen happen.
Then you got people from where you coming from, and you gotta keep faith, so I guess that’s what you do. But I’ve never been a big ol’ religious guy. Obviously, I had to go to church when I was young with my grandmother and the day that I didn’t have to go to church anymore was the day that I stopped going. I’ve never been one of those. I pray every night. I pray every morning. I got a personal relationship with God and that’s about it. I keep my faith and pray for my kids and keep it moving.
You’re friends with Kobe. What do you think you share in common with him?
Lil Wayne: The drive. The drive and will and determination. I would say that definitely. And through success to maintain that drive and will and determination.
What do you think gave you that innate drive and determination?
Lil Wayne: Nobody gave it to me. Nobody said it was up for the taking. No one ever said that a nigga from New Olreans who was in a group called Hot Boys was going to take the title, but me. Nobody can fuck with me. And when I say nobody, I mean nobody. I didn’t mean niggas from New Orleans, I didn’t mean niggas from the South, I meant niggas period. Nobody can’t fuck with me. So every song I get on, I’m going to burn your fucking ass.
How much is work ethic?
Lil Wayne: A lot of it is work ethic. I get that from my mommy. She was a chef when I was growing up.
When people eventually hear Carter 5, what do you hope they take away from you as an artist?
Lil Wayne: That I’m the last of a dying breed. When I say that, I mean that, by it being all about my music. The only people really similar in that way — that I can think of — are Kanye and Beyonce.
That’s all I am is music. That’s all I do and all I know. 366 days a year, this is all I do. 25 hours a day. 8 days a week. That’s what I do.
I come across people who still think, when they see, when they say I still go the studio. There’s bitches that’s like, ‘you couldn’t be in the studio that long,’ or they say, you just went to the studio, it’s like nah. They actually think that you take a day out of the week to not go or you pick a day out of the week to go.
I want them to know that what they’re hearing is his life. He is what he is. And this is his life and what he breathes and I want them to know that. So as a buyer, you feel better about what you’re listening to or buying. And even if it ain’t that good to you, then you know that person tried their hardest and they’re going to keep trying. That’s the shit that I want them to get, if anything. That I live it. This isn’t something that I do. This is who I am.