Later that afternoon, in a hotel suite, he was engaged and feisty as he discussed his struggle to remain optimistic and his inability to feign an interest in politics. After obtaining a soap dish in which to ash his collection of chubby blunts, his eyes widened with focus. “Shoot,” he said. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
With this book, were you worried about revisiting a difficult time?
I haven’t read it, and I don’t plan on reading it. I’m not one of those people who revisit things. I don’t remember [expletive]. I could meet the president and forget it. Of course I thought it was because I smoke too much. But somebody told me: “The reason why you don’t remember things is that it’s not the same for you as it is everybody else. Because you are it.”
You write in the introduction that the book is for fans to “have something from me while they continue to be ever so amazing and patient.”
Plain and simple, because they’re not getting anything from me, unfortunately. They’re not getting a damn thing from Wayne other than a tweet here or there.
You’ve done plenty of guest verses.
I do that all the time. I’ve been doing features since they named them features.
Two that stick out are the Chance song “No Problem” and Solange’s “Mad.” Those are personal in a way that you haven’t been in some time. Are you in a different mind-set given the career turmoil?
It’s just the song. If you send me a song about football, then I’m gonna go hard about football. It’s also about the artist.
Is there something about working with younger musicians who are pushing boundaries?
I would say so. It’s different. These people are turning the clock right now. They are the trendsetters of tomorrow, and I actually pay attention to what they send me. If [my manager] Tez sends me a song and says, ‘I need you to do this verse for whoever,’ I knock it out in that one night and send it right back. When I get the Solange or Chance song, I’m actually riding in my car, banging that. When I put my verse on it, I’m telling my engineer, “Let me get a copy.” The other ones, I’m just sending back to Tez.
Are there rappers in the new school that are motivating you? Are you keeping up with Yachty, Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, Kodak?
I swear to God I didn’t know you were saying people’s names just now, so that should probably answer that question. I just do my own thing.
After being in prison, someone like T.I. made fighting for criminal justice reform part of his life. You’ve said Black Lives Matter was a wave that passed you by. Why haven’t you been attracted to activism?
I believe there’s a bunch of different types of artists and musicians. To even notice what’s going out there — I’m trying to make these words stop popping up in my head, I’m trying to make them rhyme. I’ve got all kind of color lives mattering up in here — green, all kinds of stuff mattering. I’m trying to make sense of what’s on in this world up in here [points to head].
In prison, you got a letter from a pastor who asked you to rap about God. You consider your influence and say, “I would have straight killers in the church every Sunday.” But ultimately you decide that’s not you.
Not at all. I was on a sports show recently, and I was asked a question like that about black lives or whatever. When we got off the air, [the host] Shannon Sharpe said: “I really want to commend you for answering like that, because you didn’t make something up just to make yourself one of us. And to make yourself a victim.” I’m not that. And honestly, I don’t care. I care what’s going on with me and my kids and my world and my mom and who’s going to pay this next bill. That’s what matters to me.
In prison, you watched a lot of reality TV — “American Idol,” “Celebrity Apprentice.” Do you have any words for Donald Trump?
[Laughs] Who’s that?
Is “Tha Carter V” an album that’s finished, or is it constantly evolving as the months and years go by?
It’s done, sitting and wrapped as is. I just listened to it for the first time in months the other day. I had forgotten every single word on it, because I work every day. I popped it in, and I was like, it’s still so much better than everything I’ve ever heard. Not what’s going on right now — everything I’ve ever heard.
You’ve always been a creature of the studio. When the music isn’t coming out, are you still in there as much?
Probably more. I’m a positive thinker, so I’m still looking forward to the day that it does come out. Plus, I am musician to the heart. I love to get better every day.
Has your recording process changed in this stage of your career?
Not at all. Put the beat on, I’mma smoke one and bob my head and be ready in a few minutes.
When other artists came out in support after your retirement tweets, did that make up for how low you were feeling?
I’d be a liar to say it didn’t. People always say, “How could not expect it?” But when I saw people giving a damn about what I’m going through, that made me think and obviously uplifted me. Sometimes what you’re going through takes you far away from what the reality is. It takes someone to remind you: Look this way and remember what’s over here. I never have bad days; I have bad moments.
Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel with the label situation?
I do. I don’t have to even look. I’m gonna make sure that there’s light. If there’s a wall at the end of the tunnel, I’m gonna shoot that [expletive] down. And there’s gonna be light behind that wall.Continue reading the main story
There will come a time in the life of every hip-hop fan when he or she will be called upon to defend the art form. We are told that rapping is not really an art, that it is a bastardized form of gutter poetry or that it is intolerable for its glorification of drugs, violence or rabid misogyny. Those of us who have been in this sometimes racist and always condescending minefield before have picked up some fancy steps: We can compare the hip-hop we love to the gutter poetry that has come before that made much of drugs (Samuel Coleridge) or violence (Mark Twain) or misogyny (literally anyone). But a concrete solution often evades us as we search for a way to really nail this argument — to prove as through a mathematical theorem that the work of a rapper is as valid as, say, the work of Bob Dylan.
To the rescue comes Kreston Kent, author of “The Literary Genius of Lil Wayne: The case for Lil Wayne to be counted among Shakespeare and Dylan.” In a long essay posing as a short book, Kent presents thorough and incisive proof of Lil Wayne’s genius. If you expect to enter this minefield again to defend this art form against academics, critics or old-fashioned haters, this book is the map.
Kent sets aside as pointless the question of whether or not rap or hip-hop is an art form. “We expect literary merit to be reserved for venerated forms of expression, not mixtapes and radio waves,” he writes. But that kind of classist division is beneath him and indeed beneath us all. He follows that up with an enumeration of Lil Wayne’s skills as a writer: his tendencies toward complex rhyme schemes and literary and cultural references. He credits Lil Wayne with the construction of language puzzles that take even this University of Virginia professor some time to solve: “I still got the vision like a line between two dots,” where “the vision” is pronounced “da vision” — meaning division, or ÷. It is this kind of layered loveliness that Kent dissects in order to prove the genius of Lil Wayne.
The author addresses the question of whether the artist truly understands the depth of what he himself creates with the aplomb of a trial lawyer: “Great art is great art whether it is consciously constructed or subconsciously produced.” It is a tricky step to avoid giving all cerebral credit to an artist who doesn’t always act smart but to argue nonetheless for the validity of his genius. Kent pulls it off.
When taking on the sometimes distasteful nature of the subjects Lil Wayne chooses to base his art upon, Kent does not apologize for the artist or the art. He makes the case that this is a conscious choice, including the “banality of the gutter as if to remind us that it’s simply the genre in which Wayne works.” Just as Bruegel painted the peasants and just as Cyndi Lauper left the opera to hiccup her way through “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” Lil Wayne chooses to bring his highbrow skills to lowbrow subjects.
Finally, the book wraps up with close and careful reading of the types of rhyme and allusion Lil Wayne puts to use in his work. Many of the terms used will be familiar to anyone with a passing familiarity with Rap Genius, such as the concept of internal rhymes. But terms such as macaronic rhyme, scarce rhyme, acopated rhyme and thorn line will leave even UC Berkeley English majors running to brush up on definitions.
By the end, Kent has not only proved his point but effectively drops the mic. All hail Weezy. Call it bad weather.
Contact Meg Elison at [email protected].