Image credit: Cash Money Records
By 2004, the New Orleans-based record label, Cash Money Records, was in desperate need of repair. No longer was it the luxurious mansion that the company’s founders, Baby aka Birdman and his brother, Slim, had built 13 years prior. With the dismantling of Cash Money’s flagship group, The Hot Boyz, as well as a strained relationship with the label’s main producer, Manny Fresh, this once lavish building was now stripped of its gaudy furnishings leaving only the structural pillar of the then untapped kid-genius, Lil Wayne.
This erosion left the label depending on the talents of this young artist. While his work ethic was unmatched, outside of his debut album Tha Block Is Hot and masterful verses as a member of The Hot Boyz, Wayne found it difficult to establish consistent solo success. With his second and third albums missing the mark plus with the genre’s transition from the flashy, braggadocio content that characterized Cash Money to a short-lived rebirth of “Reality Rap,” it was unsure if Lil Wayne could stop this exhausted structure from falling to its foundation.
Young Carter, however, did not shy away from this task. After playing the background during his tenure with The Hot Boyz while the group’s star, Juvenile, conquered The South, Wayne was ready to showcase the maturation of his artistry. Weezy saw the abandoned state of his label as a vacancy that he was determined to fill. This hunger to be legendary led Carter to reach out and attempt to close the estrangement between Cash Money and the to the orchestrator of many of their signature anthems, Manny Fresh.
Wayne’s consistent contact with Fresh despite the producer’s dispute with Birdman as well as Manny’s brother-esque affection for the artist resulted in the two meeting in a New Orleans nightclub. Here is where Wayne expressed his desire to make the solo album that will establish him as an MC and how he wanted Manny Fresh at the helm the project’s production. Due to his love for Wayne, Fresh agreed, but he questioned the stipulations of this partnership as him and his boss were not seeing eye to eye. To this Wayne stated that the only condition for this album’s creation was for Manny to “go hard.”
Shortly after this meeting, Cash Money’s renovation began. And on June 29th, 2004, Manny Fresh and the 21-year old Lil Wayne revealed their 21-track opus for the world to see.
With this album, Weezy’s used his overpowering wit to reestablish the establishment that was Cash Money Records. Just by titling the album, Tha Carter, and extending the allusion to the movie New Jack City that served as the basis for his label’s namesake into a double entendre between his surname and the building that was the base of Nino Brown’s drug operation, one could see that Lil Wayne’s artistry was now on a superior level. This reference to the movie’s crack empire is continued throughout the album with clever drug innuendos that are meant to equate the highs of these substances to Wayne’s elite lyricism. Weezy also utilized the introduction, interludes, and outro of the album to further solidify this metaphor.
Image credit: Tumblr
While this title/metaphor alone was enough to move Wayne into the discussion of respected MC’s, the content of the project helped further this conversation. By choosing to lead with the single “Bring It Back,” where the chorus calls for the respect of Hip-Hop to return to The South, Wayne set the tone for the brash, honest, and gritty nature of his album. He also took time on Tha Carter to solidify where his loyalties lay. No song on the album exemplifies this concept more than “BM JR.” On this record, Tunchi states that Baby is his dad and despite the actions of his former group members Wayne will never turn his back on him. During the song, Weezy also sends a slight message to his long-term childhood friend and former Hot Boy, B.G., when he says “Gizzle my brother / same father / different mother,” implying the Baby is also B.G.’s dad, and he should come home to rejoin Wayne. This was one of the album’s more important moments as at that time, Wayne had been the target of several B.G. disses.
Image credit: Cash Money Records
As well as showcasing his growth as a musician, Tha Carter also displays Wayne’s maturation as a man. Because of the events leading up to the album’s release, it was important that Wayne emphasized his sovereign decisions in order to prove he is capable of up-keeping the residence he had built. He first demonstrated this with the employment of Manny Fresh as the lead producer of this project, showing to the world that despite extraneous issues he knows what works and he won’t let other people’s feelings affect his business. This is solidified by the constant use of “Young Money” and “Squad Up,” two phases of Wayne’s solo career that resulted in corporate ventures, throughout the album in addition to claiming he is the “best rapper alive” for one of his first times ever. All of this helped to establish Lil Wayne as a brand, proving to skeptics he is not the same Wayne from The Hot Boyz.
Yet the most evident act of Wayne’s maturity is present on the song “Miss My Dawgs.” On this track, he addresses the former members of The Hot Boyz, who had all left the record company leaving him to mend the label by himself. This fact alone is enough to make anyone go an eight-minute diss rampage. Wayne, however, chose to express his sorrow and hurt over the end of their era. The maturity and growth that this album possessed allowed Tha Carter to debut at number five on The Billboard 200 leading to an RIAA Gold status and set the stage for Lil Wayne to have one of the most successful runs Rap will ever see.
Although Tha Carter revitalized Cash Money, like the fictional gang it draws inspiration from, the record company’s success met a gloomy end. The plight that prompted Tha Carter’s creation can be likened to G-Money allowing the “actual” Carter to be infiltrated, as the pair have a catalyst rooted in bad judgment leading to even worse business. When, Weezy, on the other hand, can be compared to a mad, but persistent Nino Brown. Both experienced a hit of no fault of their own forcing them to rebuild their establishments in order to salvage the little success they had left. And just as Nino decided to stay loyal to G-Money choosing to duplicate his operation only in a different location, Lil Wayne did the same thing except his “Carter” was a different building constructed on the same faulty, foundation.
Similar flaws that ultimately led to an identical demise.
Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Now, 13 years after the release of Tha Carter, Hip-Hop has seen this project grow into one the most profitable album series in music. Wayne’s restoration breathed new life in Cash Money Records, propelling not only himself but the company, into an iconic status. Because of Tha Carter, Cash Money Records is mentioned with the likes of labels such as Death Row, Roc-a-fella, and No Limit when musical entrepreneurship is discussed. Yet due to the weight of poor ethics, a crack was left in the company’s foundation making it so that the world may never see Tunchi’s final installation.
Despite this, Dwayne Carter’s impact helps to hold the current of Rap together. So as Tha Carter enters its biblical manhood, Hip-Hop should reflect on the contribution Lil Wayne has made to its culture. When you go to stream an album, try to find a popular artist who Wayne hasn’t directly inspired. Then when you don’t succeed and end up picking the album you originally wanted to hear, reflect on what more Rap can do to aid in Weezy’s situation (other than Ross, Hov, and Titty Boi. Y’all are doing great). And finally, when you look around at the elegantly designed infrastructure that beautifies and supports the genre you claim to love, try to remember that all saviors were once carpenters.