Today is Lil Wayne’s 34th birthday and the Hollygrove has been a cultural icon since he entered our lives as a member of the Hot Boyz 20 years ago. Today Lil Wayne also stands as THE most influential rapper of all time considering all he’s done for the game. It’s a shame that in addition, Wayne enters his mid-30s in a purgatory of sorts stuck between a label dispute restricting an album release and among several lawsuits and court orders that have caused Wayne to publicly cry out in recent weeks. The Rap game and fans reacted accordingly to the vulnerable bleating of the one-time Best Rapper Alive. They too dropped their guards in support of the rapper that an entire generation of Rap fans have revered at one time or another. Their reactions to Wayne’s situation are just the latest illustration of his impact on the game as the most influential rapper ever.

It may seem like a big statement to make but Lil Wayne is responsible for so much of the game that we love today. First, it was Young Tunechi (or Young Tunafish’s) induction of the word “bling” into the planet’s vernacular but that, still, was a pebble on the Aggro Crag that would soon become Wayne’s legacy. Mr. Carter’s first splash came as he revitalized the mixtape game that was yet to crossover into the mainstream before the release of Da Drought series, as well as the The Prefix and The Suffix. Those two packages wouldn’t even approach the acclaim of the DJ Drama hosted Dedication series which is where Wayne expounds on his self-proclaimed Best Rapper Alive title. No one would dare argue with him at that moment, though, ‘cause if they wanted problems, bitch he’d want the same thang. 10 years later, rappers are releasing their best material for free as mixtapes. It was rare that pre-Lil Wayne and the Dedication tapes, rappers released an album-like tape and have it take over the game for an extended period. 2Chainz, J. Cole and Drake would go on to do so a few years later but still not to the extent which Wayne had. Now with Young Thug and Future establishing themselves as the game’s elite on mixtapes, it resembles what Wayne did a decade ago.

The release -and ensuing clamor, of a Drake mixtape was once again the result of Lil Wayne’s influence. Instead of releasing of a single or LP on a major label, Drake’s grand introduction came on ‘Ransom’ in 2008, which was a mixtape track or a loosie that led to the release of the Grammy-nominated “So Far Gone”. What happened next is, literally, still in progress but just yesterday Drake was recognized for breaking an Apple music streaming record. The 6ix side rep is alone in his Pop crossover abilities.

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Talking about Drake without mentioning Nicki Minaj was would blasphemy. She might be the closest in rivaling Drake in the crossover category where even Wayne was unable to delve as far. Not only is Wayne responsible for Drake but his backing of Nicki Minaj made her the best female MC since Lil Kim and arguably better than Queen B. Today, the YMCMB queen is worth $70 million and counting. Wayne’s vision for Young Money was seemingly executed and then some as the two continue to reach heights unseen by any rapper prior.

 

Ironically, Wayne’s latest successor found himself under the Cash Money umbrella housing Wayne and his other wildly successful sponsors. Young Thug began as nothing more than a Lil Wayne rip off who’d fail to find his way in the long run. Two years after “Stoner”, Thugger is no longer just an orphan of Wayne’s but a legitimate artist capable of sending waves through the game in a fashion similar to the Lil Wayne that made a Rock album, put skateboard ramps on stages during his shows and quieted some of the taboo surrounding the drug culture in Rap -for better or for worse. Other than Thugger, most southern artists can trace their roots back to what Wayne did for them with only Guwop on his heels.

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Like Thugger, Wayne was lauded -or berated- by the game for his eccentric fashion with Tune’s heavy appropriation of skate and Rock culture. It was rare that skinny jeans were on rappers before Wayne donned the attire. Studded leather belts were Wayne, as well. Hov and Pac may have had a similar influence in making nose rings and button-up shirts cool but neither of the styles were as pervasive as this which likened kids from wards in New Orleans to those in suburbs to each other arguably more than ever before. Considering the popularity of mixtapes in suburban households and skinny jeans in the low-income households, no other artist has been as important as Wayne.

 

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