In happier times, the world was Lil Wayne’s. After his stint at Rikers Island ended in 2010, dancing, rain-soaked women awaited him in the prison parking lot. Models dressed as Marie Antoinette-type courtiers whisked him away to a booth at a private out-of-jail party in Miami. Rap fans and critics mopped up puddles of their drool when Wayne dropped I Am Not A Human Being that year, and even Tha Carter IV in 2011. His “father” Birdman celebrated the success of label Cash Money Records on the cover of Billboard in 2012.
But just a couple years after those halcyon days, Wayne’s seemed to slide down a syrupy spiral of dings to his public image, culminating in what may be the most bitter pill ever for Cash Money stans. Yesterday, TMZ reported that not only are things worse than ever in the Cash Money/Young Money world, but Wayne is actually suing Birdman to the tune of $51 million.
According to TMZ, money is the reason we haven’t yet heard the long-awaited Tha Carter V — which, since Wayne first announced it in 2012, is fast becoming his own Chinese Democracy. Long story short: Wayne claims he never got millions in promised advances to record Tha Carter V, and only wants to legally let Cash Money release it if they pony up. He also claims he owns partial copyright on everything Cash Money has put out — so yes, that includes recordings by Drake, Nicki Minaj, and the whole gang.
Well, we can pretty much assume we won’t see any more cuddly Birdman/Wayne photos ever again. So how did things go sour in Wayne's World, which just five years ago seemed iron-clad and gold-plated? We can look at this series of missteps and misfortunes to track how things went so far south.
Nobody really showed up for Trukfit recently.
Wayne’s passion for skateboarding has actually seemed rather sweet and true; he’s even constructed full-on, onstage skate parks during past tours. Unfortunately, he seemed to be the only person who actually wore Trukfit, a garish line of skater gear that made the rest of the clothes at places like Zumiez look modest.
Health problems put a serious damper on everything.
For the last couple months of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013, Wayne suffered a series of highly publicized seizures that put him through some (heavily papped) hospital stays. Despite salacious blog posts that hinted at syrup abuse, Wayne explained it away as part of a previously unannounced, long-running battle with epilepsy. Either way, it no doubt slowed his momentum.
As it turns out, people don’t really love it when you disrespect the American flag for no clear reason.
You know, everyone’s for free speech and everything, but even some of the most liberal agitators among us cringed at the 2013 video for “God Bless Amerika,” where his flag-burning and –stomping came off as gratuitous.
Wayne forgot to address major social issues affecting his audience.
As recent as the time of I Am Not a Human Being and such, audiences still wanted to hear the kinds of Cash Money tracks where Birdman just showed up and mumbled strings of nouns that signified Expensive Things. That’s not really the case in recent times, when even the flossiest rappers have paid lip service to social issues.
“Sorry For the Wait 2” happened.
Despite, yeah, that wait, even Wayne’s biggest stans decided not to stan for this mixtape. Despite some classic killer lines, Sorry For the Wait 2, released last week, too often comes off like a sloppy grasping at the sounds of hotter and younger MCs. Wayne is rather too adult and too good to rap over beats popularized by Rae Sremmurd and IloveMakonnen; yet he did. The artwork for the mixtape — an arm handcuffed on one end, free on the other—basically screams he still feels shackled to Cash Money. That doubtlessly did little to smooth the relationship, either.
For fans of Wayne since he was making up words with the Hot Boys, this all stings—so we can try to still pin our hopes on Tha Carter V. Are those $51-million-album-level hopes? Probably not — but perhaps Birdman and Wayne can patch it all up. If true love is a lie, can we at least believe in the love between adopted rap “father” and “son?” Please?
Arielle Castillo is Fusion's culture editor, reporting on arts, music, culture, and subcultures from the streets on up. She's also a connoisseur of weird Florida, weightlifting, and cats.