On Jan. 6, 2021, a sea of confederate banners, Make America Great Again hats, and flags embossed with the TRUMP 2020 logo punched through the glass of the U.S. Capitol and attempted a coup of the government. Someone reenacted George Floyd’s death on the Capitol steps and another person flew the confederate flag in the hall of the Capitol. In the chaos that ensued, multiple people were killed in lieu of showing support for the soon-to-be outgoing President Donald Trump, who maintains that the election was rigged since he lost.
A month prior, on Dec. 11, 2020, rapper Lil Wayne, whose real name is Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., pleaded guilty to felony gun charges and was scheduled to be sentenced to 10 years in prison. According to a Department of Justice press release, the charge stems from a December 2019 arrest, when Florida police searched his private plane and found a gold-plated Remington 1911, .45-caliber handgun loaded with six rounds of ammunition. And since Carter had already been convicted of a felony, his possession of the gun and ammunition was illegal. Not to mention he was in possession of cocaine, ecstasy, and oxycodone. He was scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 28, but a pardon from former-President Trump allowed him to avoid jail time.
Wayne, however, may have foreshadowed dodging a bullet for his actions just two months before.
In October, the 38-year-old posted a picture with the president, smiling. Not even caring that he was just being used for a photo-op, Lil Wayne tweeted the image with a caption that suggested for people to vote for the president’s re-election. After Trump’s four years of xenophobia and racist policies that have set the country back farther than any president has done in recent history, Lil Wayne’s public support of Trump was met with swift backlash levied at him. They both lost.
To Black America, Wayne was at his lowest point — especially when it was hinted at the reason for this endorsement was to receive clemency for the aforementioned gun charge. And it worked. In the final hours of Trump’s presidency, he pardoned or commuted 143 sentences, including Wayne’s.
Fans were, and still are, disgusted at Wayne’s antics. “I’m surprised, but as usual, disappointed by the actions of Black male celebrity privilege,” says longtime fan Tarahgee Morris. For Bárbara Polanco, this has, presumably, ended her support of him. “I can’t respect and separate the person from the artist in his case after making such a tone-deaf decision in a year like 2020,” she says.
To say that Lil Wayne supported this man is indicative of just how far he’s fallen over the course of his mythical hip-hop career. He peaked when he could sell a million records in a week back in 2008, when his claim of being hip-hop’s “Best Rapper Alive” had merit. Now, he’s a shade of his former self, forever haunted by a fall that has to do more with his politics and worldview than a musical decline — though there’s shades of that, too.
Lil Wayne was the kid at the microphone who was rap’s prodigal son. He started rapping at just eight years old and didn’t try to be cute — he just was. In 1991, he met Birdman and went on to record some freestyle raps over his answering machine. This led to Birdman mentoring the young child, who he’d later refer to as his father, and the beginnings of what would be a lengthy, and legendary career.
But before that, a suicide attempt would come first.
On Nov. 11, 1994, at just 12 years old, Lil Wayne shot himself in the chest with a 9mm handgun — initially, he claimed that it was an accidental shooting. He’d barely missed his heart. His reason for doing this was because his mother wanted him to give up rapping already and relinquish those connections that he established, but the universe had other plans for him. An off-duty police officer named Robert Hoobler — Lil Wayne refers to him as “Uncle Bob” — found him and insisted that he be taken to the hospital in a police car. Having been saved by a police officer, Lil Wayne gained a new respect and fascination with the institution that has defined his very character so far.
With a new lease on life, Lil Wayne took things full speed. He joined the Hot Boys, with Juvenile, B.G. and Turk, and became a national phenomenon through their No. 1 album Guerrilla Warfare. But it wasn’t until “Back That Azz Up,” Juvenile’s infamous dance anthem, that had its video come out in 1999, that Lil Wayne truly became an inkling of the public figure that he could be.
Tha Block Is Hot dropped in 1999 and kicked off Lil Wayne’s solo era. Through visceral scene-setting of smoking guns after drive-by shootings and drastically detailing his stresses on “Fuck Tha World,” Lil Wayne hit the hearts of hip-hop fans everywhere, from the slums to the suburbs, who identified with his message and felt his pain. He became a spokesperson for the ghetto and his punchlines and vivid recollection of the street made him on top of his game.
After the success of Tha Block Is Hot, Lil Wayne’s solo career kicked into high gear. He released Tha Carter, Tha Carter II and Like Father, Like Son, with Birdman, from 2004 to 2006 and appeared on countless features for charting singles, solidifying himself as an artist who could contend with hip-hop’s changing tide. Instead of taking his foot off the gear, he would go on to release two of his most legendary mixtapes of his many that have defined his career: Dedication 2 and Da Drought 3. Between the two, his style became tighter and his punchlines more succinct.
On Dedication 2, Lil Wayne called out President George W. Bush for his slow response to send aid to Hurricane Katrina victims in Wayne’s home state of Louisiana, leading the world to believe that the rapper was more politically-inclined than many thought to believe. This, along with the resulting success of his mixtapes led to his next album, Tha Carter III, selling over a million copies in the first week and Lil Wayne’s claims of being the “Best Rapper Alive” finally began to make sense.
That’s widely considered one of his highest points because though he has appeared on countless classic singles in the time sense, released a number of mixtapes as well as two more Tha Carter albums and five other LPs, he has yet to reclaim that level of prominence and commercial appeal.
While one could attribute it to the quality of his music declining as rap moves away from the punchline heavy style that he used to frequent, it also comes from him becoming the opposite of what the world believed him to be politically and thematically. His lengthy arrest record could also be to blame.
In 2007, Lil Wayne went through multiple arrests: first, being arrested in New York City after performing at the Beacon Theater where he was charged with criminal possession of a weapon and marijuana. Afterward, he was arrested for felony fugitive charges in Georgia before the charges were later dropped. In 2008, he was arrested after Arizona agents recovered cocaine, ecstasy and cash, and got charged with four felonies, of which he would plead guilty to in 2010 and get 36 months of probation. He received a one-year sentence after pleading guilty to attempted criminal possession of a weapon in 2009, served from March 8 of the following year to Nov. 4, 2010.
These spotty periods of unrest and tension led to Wayne’s proteges, Nicki Minaj and Drake, to begin to assume the position at the top of the rap spectrum that he once occupied. Lil Wayne withdrew further from the rap spectrum and as he worked to try and come back with the release of albums like Tha Carter IV and I Am Not a Human Being II in 2011 and 2013 respectively, the true scope of his downfall would be revealed — and it tied right back to a belief system established years ago.
During an interview with Nightline in 2016, Lil Wayne was asked about Black Lives Matter, the organization that protects to show the importance of black lives through protests and calls for change. His response was the first knife wound into his career and the blood began to pour.
“That just sounds weird,” he said. “I don’t know, that you put a name on such a — that’s what it was. It’s not a name; it’s not whatever, whatever. It’s somebody got shot by a policeman for a fucked up reason. I am a young, Black, rich motherfucker. If that don’t let you know that America understand Black motherfucker matter these days, I don’t what it is. I don’t know what you mean. Now, don’t come at me with that. My life matters, especially to my bitches.”
Lil Wayne’s response, aside from being grossly ignorant, was telling because it removed the police officer from assuming responsibility for his actions. Given that his life was saved by a police officer as a kid, it explains why he’s never spoken out against any of the injustices to Black people that have occurred over the last decade.
New York-based therapist Jennifer Hall, who specializes in treating women and has worked in the past as a medical social worker, explains over email that Lil Wayne’s relationship with the police is “complicated and nuanced” like it is with a large percentage of Black Americans. “Growing up in a high poverty neighborhood during the height of the war on drugs and mass incarceration, I’m sure he witnessed the ways that people who looked like him were treated by law enforcement,” she says. “I mean, Angola prison plantation in Louisiana is legendary. He called the police in his neighborhood ‘jump out boys’ because of their willingness to indiscriminately brutalize black men in his neighborhood.
“Yet, a police officer went above and beyond to save him,” she continues. “He is grateful to the officer and uses that experience to remind himself and others not to generalize law enforcement, because he knows they have the power to save lives.”
This shining image of Lil Wayne becoming another Black celebrity looking to entice black people to vote for Trump is what now defines Lil Wayne’s legacy more than any mixtape or album accolade or punchline-packed verse that graced MySpace pages all over. It’s like learning that Santa couldn’t be real and then finding out, in fact, he doesn’t exist when there’s nothing left at the bottom of your Christmas tree. Lil Wayne’s voice, normally out of the public’s ear, has repeatedly made it clear that he’s out of touch with the people that he raps to.
In the age of transparency between musicians and their fanbases, Lil Wayne has finally been exposed. This aspect of the rapper had never been truly unearthed because it’s not something that he addressed in prior interviews from before 2016 — mostly focusing on his music, his money, and his career. But with rappers becoming the biggest artists in the world who often double as public figures, the fact that he’s still one of rap’s most prolific recorders doesn’t matter. It’s his politics that are front and center.
There hasn’t been an artist with as huge of a fall — tied to their beliefs — as Lil Wayne. While his legacy isn’t called into question due to the accolades, the veracity of his claims and early lyricism can be called into question. But without the true answer to when he became so transformed with his beliefs, listening to him creates a lot of speculation that takes away from the music. How much of “Georgia Bush” was authentic and what was performative? It seems like the idea of Lil Wayne and what he represents has become better than the real thing.