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The heavily tattooed hip-hop rapper Lil Wayne is not someone you would automatically associate with President Obama but recently the President revealed that the Louisiana-born singer featured on his iPod play list. In his short career, Lil Wayne has sold millions of albums, appeared with some of the rap and pop industries most popular stars and won four Grammy Awards. He may not yet have reached his thirtieth birthday, but Lil Wayne has been rapping for most of his young life.
Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr was born in September 1982 and grew up on the outskirts of New Orleans. His talent was recognised at an early age by Bryan Williams, rapper and owner of Cash Money Records. The eight-year old impressed Williams with his original songs and he began mentoring the boy after school. Although he recorded his first album, “True Story” with rapper B.G in 1993, it wasn’t until 1997, when Carter was 15 that he had his first taste of the big time.
The Hot Boys was a group of rappers including Carter, Juvenile, B.G. and Turk. Their debut album, “Get It How U Live”, didn’t make much of an impression on the charts but their follow-up in 1999, “Guerrilla Warfare”, went to number five on the US Billboard 200 and number one on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop album chart.
Carter decided to go it alone and at 17, recorded his debut solo album. “The Block is Hot” which went straight into the album charts at number 3 and earned him a Source magazine award nomination for Best New Artist. The album and its two follow-ups featured contributions from the other members of Hot Boys. Carter’s 2000 album, “Lights Out” wasn’t favourably received by the public and didn’t do as well as his debut. Likewise, “500 Degreez” released in 2002 failed to make an impact on the charts that his debut album had done.
By 2004, Carter had honed his rapping style and his lyrics reflected his growing maturity as evidenced by his album, “Tha Carter” which sold almost 900,000 copies in the US and sent the single, “Go DJ” into the top five on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart. Eighteen months later, he released a follow-up. “Tha Carter II” outdid its predecessor, selling over two million copies worldwide and peaking at number two on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The following year, at the age of 22, Carter became president of Cash Money records and founded his own label, Young Money Entertainment. His move into management, however, didn’t last very long and in 2007, he handed management of Young Money over to Cortez Bryant.
Lil Wayne has collaborated with numerous artists over the years, both those within the rap world and also those in the more mainstream record business. He featured on the Destiny’s Child single “Soldier” in 2004, collaborated with rapper Birdman on the album, “Like Father, Like Son,” worked with Chris Brown on “Gimme That”, “American Gangster” with Jay-Z and “Insomniac” with Enrique Iglesias.
Fans had to wait three years for Lil Wayne’s follow-up album. “Tha Carter III” was originally due to be released in late 2007 but many of the songs were leaked to the fans. Carter initially decided to release the leaked tracks plus several new ones in a separate album, to be called “The Leak”. However, despite working on it for several months, the album came to nothing and instead, “Tha Carter III” was released in June 2008. It proved to be the rapper’s biggest selling album to date, with over a million copies sold in its first week and the single, “Lollipop” going to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, the first time Carter topped the singles chart. It wasn’t just the fans that were impressed with the album. “Tha Carter III” earned Lil Wayne four Grammy Awards including Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song.
In October 2008, Lil Wayne headlined the Voodoo Experience concert in his hometown of New Orleans and also announced plans to reunite with the Hot Boys to release a new album of material. The following month, he became the first hip-hop artist to perform at the Country Music Association Awards, joining Kid Rock on stage to perform “All Summer Long.” Although instead of his trademark rapping, Carter played the guitar. He topped off the most successful year of his career by being named MTV’s first Man of the Year.
In February 2010, Carter changed direction and released a rock album called “Rebirth”. Singles from the album were released the previous year but did not do so well on the charts. The album’s most successful single “Prom Queen” only reached number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. It seemed the fans preferred the rapper to the rocker. Later in 2010, he released “I Am Not a Human Being” featuring the hit single “Right About It”. Carter’s ninth studio album, “Tha Carter IV” is due out sometime during the summer of 2011.
Carter’s private life has been as colourful as some of his lyrics. He has four children by four separate women, becoming a first time father at 15 when his high school sweetheart gave birth to a baby girl. His latter three children were all born within 13 months of each other, something the rapper does not apologise for. In March 2010, he began a yearlong prison sentence, later reduced to 8 months, for an incident involving illegal firearm possession. The rapper is also renowned for his tattoos that cover his body and face. Each one has a special meaning for Carter. For example, the four tears represent the deaths of four members of his family, whilst the letter “C” between his eyes, represents his last name.
Lil Wayne may appear to be the stereotypical rapper: bad-boy lyrics, tattoos, with a criminal record and multiple offspring. But with four Grammys and nine albums to his name, Carter is an industry veteran at the tender age of 28. Moreover, if he’s good enough for the President of the United States, then he’s good enough for the rest of us.