When my mama threw my homemade mixtape out of a moving car, “Workin’ Em” by Lil Wayne had just finished playing.
Three minutes earlier when it started, as soon as I heard the beat drop, followed by the well-known intro, Gangsta grillz you bastard, I tried hard to scurry out of my seat belt in the back seat and reach my hand over the headrest, hoping to press the knob on the stereo in time to cease the commotion. But clearly, it was too late.
It’s really an eye-opening experience listening to the music you enjoy in private, with a parent. You start noticing every curse word, every misogynistic lyric. They all seep out like pus. I noticed none of this when I rapped it word for word while alone.
My mama listened to the whole thing without saying a word. She listened to him say: Bitches on my stick, but my name ain’t Harry Potter and And since we like to travel, she let us run a train and She ask me to go down, I’m like as long as I fuck her. If you’re familiar with Lil Wayne’s discography, you know these things are lightweight in comparison to other things he’s said.
When the song was over, I thought I had made it. I thought she understood I just liked the way the words flowed over the beat. But then she ejected the mixtape I spent all night illegally downloading the tracks from Limewire to make. She snapped the plastic in half and broke my heart all in the same motion. She threw the tape out the window and told me I must have lost my mind.
She didn’t appreciate the metaphoric bliss; she only heard what was on the surface. All she heard was That’s why ya bitch want a real nigga like me and she wanna give that pussy to a nigga like me over and over on a loop. I was twelve years old and this was my favorite hook to repeat. She didn’t get the reference to Harry Potter riding a broom. She didn’t care about the association of travel and train. She didn’t understand the power of this man’s punch lines, the way he played with language, the ways I was subconsciously learning through his language. And granted, I didn’t understand or care about any of this at the time either. I just liked how loud and vulgar the music was.
Dwayne Michael Carter came into my life early on. My father used to play super-group Hot Boyz all the time. I was four. A child’s child. The group consisted of rappers Juvenile, Turk, B.G., and Wayne, who was just a teen at the time. His hair wasn’t matted and loc’d yet. He was just a kid with a fro, that later became cornrows, from New Orleans. I’d hear him making sounds like a gun with his voice, creating these unforgettable moments within these songs, and I immediately gravitated toward him. He was my first favorite rapper.
When I was in the eighth grade, Tha Carter 3 was released. His fifth solo studio album. The album my friends and I would rap from start to finish in Mr. Green’s algebra class. By this time, Lil Wayne was unarguably the biggest, and debatably the best, rapper alive. He was featured on hundreds of tracks. You could hardly listen to anything without hearing his voice at some point. He was at his peak, his craft perfected, his wordplay impeccable, and it was all off the top of the dome. He freestyled everything. I still envy this. It takes me days to come up with just a page I believe is half good. And it takes me months to prepare something I’m ok with the world seeing. But him, it was like everything that came out of his mouth became a cause for conversation. He had everyone’s attention. He was the favorite rapper of everyone I knew.
Before this, he had been dropping mixtape projects that are now deemed classics, such as the beginning stages of The Dedication series, as well as Da Drought series that birthed his “Upgrade U” freestyle, an actual masterpiece that should be in somebody’s museum. This was around the time I really started to listen to how raps were constructed, the intention behind the art; it was all becoming fascinating and all consuming.
I don’t think there has ever been, or will ever be, another rapper who uses metaphor the way Lil Wayne does. He has surpassed the standard definition of metaphor as figure of speech that’s not literally applicable. He’s found a way to make the imaginative literal. He’s found a way to make it applicable. His metaphors are so effortless that they come off as funny. I am baffled by how easily he does it. I’m always jealous at how, other than Weezy F. Baby and the F is for phenomenal, his lines always makes perfect sense. His lasagna metaphor is legendary. His automatic leaving you dead in the living room is infamous. His niggas having enough white to build Barack’s house is notorious. As fans, we all have a Lil Wayne bar that has left us stunned by how perfectly constructed it is, how easily his wordplay can go over your head if you aren’t paying attention. There are too many to count. Now I take into consideration how wit plays a part in my own work. How to make words connect on more than one level. How to make sentences mean more than one thing. I annotate his lyrics. He’s one of the best at words, and I knew it when he said, I can say it don’t rhyme, and it’s gone rhyme. AND IT DID.