Lil Wayne’s Mastery Makes Me Appreciate Him and Sigh at Jay-Z
I’m supposed to be a Jay-Z fan. I was raised in Brooklyn, where he was born and shouts out in his rhymes. I understand the New York experience, which is equal parts refinement and grit. Everyone from every place likes to brag about their hometown. But New Yorkers frustrate others with that bombast because the city often lives up to the hype. If you can make it here, et cetera.
I estimate it’s the reason so few like New Yorkers. It seems like we’re taking credit for a city and a history that is much larger than any single person from it. Yet, we do so with pride and sometimes delusion. I’ve been in New York for most of my life, and I can say that it’s not the greatest city. The subways deteriorate more daily. Potholes devastate local roads. The median cost of rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is the highest in the country, and prices outpace value. It doesn’t make sense to live here except for the romance.
Jay-Z is New York. He’s a legacy act who shows exclusivity in style and inclusivity in background. He reminds you where he’s from all the time. He’s brash about his accomplishments but measured in his movement. He’s also well past his heyday, and issues impossible effort persuading you otherwise. Shawn Carter is a master wordsmith, albeit a grizzled one. He’s escaped the decline rappers face in a young man’s form by keeping his verbal dexterity. But he’s lost the intangible passion that youth gifts us.
Lil Wayne is New Orleans. Hip-hop’s other royal Carter carries a legacy much like his city’s. Lil Wayne’s New Orleans origins speak to how much its native son’s influence gets overlooked. “Dreadlocks and face tats/I’m the apex,” he declares on “God Did.” He’s laid out the style template for the genre’s current aesthetic, whether human or AI. His protégés, Drake and Nicki Minaj, drive more conversations more frequently. His onetime mentor tried to destroy him. But here stands Weezy, with staple rap verses on all the biggest songs across three decades. If the G.O.A.T. title is one public chatter obsesses over, the artist pains himself when he’s recognized but not minted. New Orleans blends its Creole gumbo from French, Caribbean, and African spiritual…