Among planet pop's current group of best-selling music artists – a list that includes superstars Rihanna, Adele, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift – Lil Wayne is surely the most unusual. The 5' 6", tattoo-covered rapper, with his lengthy dreadlocks and mouth full of irremovable diamonds, isn't the glossy, marketable pin-up pop star his contemporaries are. But there is an argument that no single person has been more influential in the pop music lexicon over the past five years than Wayne.
Performing at the O2 arena on October 9th, Ireland gets its first look at the man who calls himself Weezy F Baby, Lil Tunechi, President Carter or, simply, The Best Rapper Alive. Each moniker represents a different side of Wayne's personality or a different era in his imperceptible evolution. And as such, his career has been a series of contradictions, stemming from the fact that he never does anything obvious. Here are just some of the incongruities that have helped bring Lil Wayne to the peak of the music industry.
Born Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr (he dropped the 'D' to disconnect himself from his absent father), little Wayne was raised in the infamous New Orleans neighbourhood of Hollygrove. With a personality equal part artistic and unhinged, at 12 years of age, he distinguished himself by starring as the Tin Man in a school production of The Wizard of Oz, the same year he accidentally shot himself in the chest, fooling around with a handgun in his bedroom.
With his all muscle and bone physique, promiscuous lyrics and attraction to handguns (in 2010 he served eight months in prison for attempted weapon possession), at times Wayne conveys the hyper-masculinity associated with almost every major rap artists since murdered legend Tupac Shakur left behind the icon of a two-glock-toting rogue, and not the socially conscious poet that often gets forgotten.
But like Tupac’s long, beating eyelashes and feminine features betrayed his hard image, Wayne’s appearance too defies his rough’n’ tumble lifestyle. Despite the ink, dreds and diamonds, there’s something about him that’s approachable. Cuddly, you might say.
While his lyrics vividly depict the contrary, no other mainstream rapper has had rumours of homosexuality follow them around like Wayne. A photo of him kissing his mentor Bryan ‘Birdman’ Williams full on the lips didn’t shock fans who recognised Williams’ father-figure role in Wayne’s life (yet another Wayne pseudonym is Birdman Junior), but it hasn’t stopped his lyrics being dissected for clues to his sexual orientation.
With album sales crumbling in the new millennium, Wayne has offered the music industry the ultimate contradiction: selling huge numbers by giving music away for free. In 2005, on a track from the second instalment of Tha Carter album series, Wayne audaciously began referring to himself 'The Best Rapper Alive'. While Tha Carter II was a success for Wayne (reaching number 2 on the Billboard album charts), few were taking the claims seriously. But between the releases of Tha Carter II and Tha Carter III in 2008, Wayne's declarations began to bear weight as he relentlessly released new music via the internet for free. The sheer volume of Wayne's output turned heads, but there was an undeniable quality to his work also. Vibe magazine published a list of the 77 best Lil Wayne songs of 2007, and still left plenty of scope for debate. When Wayne finally released an official single, Lollipop, in 2008, it sold more than four million copies in the US, becoming the biggest selling single of that year, while Tha Carter III would go on to sell more than 3.5 million copies.
Not content with just hip-hop, in 2010 Wayne released the mind-boggling rock album Rebirth. A bizarre concept from the start, Wayne didn't pleasantly surprise pop critics, with the LA Times's Jeff Weiss writing that the album "deserves its reputation as one of the worst albums of the year so far".
On March 15th this year, Wayne was admitted to hospital suffering from seizures. Gossip website TMZ reported that he was in critical condition and had been read the last rites, while associate Mack Maine attempted to calm down fans’ panic by tweeting that the duo were watching a basketball game. What exactly happened that day is still unclear (it’s likely somewhere in the middle of TMZ and Maine’s assertions), but he was thankfully discharged just a few days later.
Wayne even contradicts himself in his lyrics from time to time. For example, he has veered wildly on his affinity for the bubbly. Having previously rapped "you had my chain, you beared my name, then we had champagne" on Let's Talk, he made a U-turn, telling fans "I don't drink champagne, it make my stomach hurt" on the track Bill Gates . A less trivial inconsistency came in 2010 though, when he went from stating that he "ain't never killed nobody, I promise," on the track Hustler Muzik to "I murder for fun" on Wish You Would.
Lil Wayne performs at the O2 on October 9th