Lil Wayne’s ‘Retirement’ and How His War Against Birdman Got This Far
The hip-hop trailblazer has vowed to stop recording new music until his label—founded and owned by Birdman—pays what it allegedly owes him. How did it get this bad?
Trigger fingers turned to Twitter fingers earlier this month, when Lil Wayne aka Tunechi aka Weezy aka Mr. Carter appeared to quit the rap game via social media.
Lil Wayne’s illustrious career began at the tender age of 9, when the prepubescent NOLA native joined Cash Money Records. That is, Weezy dropped his first platinum-selling record when Drake was still prepping for his Bar Mitzvah. In 2005, he founded his own label imprint, Young Money Entertainment. His sixth album, Tha Carter III, was an embarrassment of riches. If Lil Wayne had only given us “Lollipop,” it would have been enough—let alone “Got Money” and “A Milli.”
Unfortunately, like countless artists before him, FKA Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. fell victim to his own demons. Aforementioned demons included an inexplicable desire to make rock music, which led to 2010’s Rebirth, a 12-track disaster that the Los Angeles Times called “one of the worst albums of the year.” Like Blake Lively getting her racist Goop on or Kate Upton offering unsolicited opinions on American race relations, Lil Wayne learned a hard and fast lesson about staying in his lane. In March of the same year, the rapper started serving an eight-month jail sentence for criminal possession of a weapon. He even dropped a Lucious Lyon-esque incarcerated album, in a semi-successful attempt to erase the memory of his Fall Out Boy collaboration. Having ridden out more ups and downs than a Real Housewife during the Hamptons rosé shortage, Weezy remains a hip hop legend, and one of the best-selling artists of all time.
But on Sept. 3, the rapper tweeted, “I am now defenseless and mentally defeated and I leave gracefully and thankful I luh my fanz but I’m dun.” He continued, “Ain’t looking for sympathy, just serenity…I’m good y’all don’t trip.” In a new interview with commentator Skip Bayless on his Fox Sports 1 show Undisputed, Wayne confirmed his retirement with a caveat: He’ll get back to work, when and if Cash Money Records settles his alleged back pay. Or in Wayne’s words, “Gimme mine and I’ll walk free.”
This isn’t the first time Lil Wayne has trashed Cash Money. In 2014, the rapper fired shots at his mentor Birdman over a label dispute. After countless delays of Tha Carter V, the rapper’s fifth and final Carter album, Wayne broke down: “I want off this label and nothing to do with these people but unfortunately it ain't that easy,” he wrote on Twitter. “I am a prisoner and so is my creativity.” The next year, Wayne confirmed the dissolution of his decade-long relationship with the label, filing a $51 million lawsuit against Cash Money. In the suit, Weezy claims that Birdman’s decision to delay Tha Carter V is in violation with his contract. He’s seeking to terminate his ties to Cash Money once and for all, taking his Young Money protégées with him—a roster that includes Drake and Nicki Minaj.
In the wake of Wayne’s onstage invocations to “Fuck Cash Money,” fans were not surprised to learn that Weezy and Birdman were no longer on speaking terms. In July 2015, the rapper released his album “Free Weezy” in an exclusive Tidal deal, rapping, “Rest in peace to the Cash Money Weezy / Gone but not forgotten.” Birdman and his entourage allegedly responded by pelting the Cash Money turncoat with drinks and water bottles from the VIP section of Miami’s Club LIV. And because Birdman and Lil Wayne are serious power players and not Love and Hip-Hop: Miami cast members, Birdman also sued Jay Z and Tidal, citing Cash Money’s exclusive rights to Lil Wayne’s music. In his first interview since the controversy began, Birdman told journalist Angie Martinez, “Wayne is my son no matter what. That ain’t never gonna change.”
Along with their daddy issues and hip-hop dynasty drama, Lil Wayne and Birdman also failed to distinguish their beef from an episode of Empire with a January 2016 club reconciliation. The duo returned to the room where it happened—Miami’s Club LIV—to make nice, with Birdman announcing, “This my motherfucking son, and I'ma die for him, I'ma live for him, and I'll motherfucking kill for him. That ain’t never changed. YMCMB for life.” But off-brand Lucious Lyon stunting aside, Wayne and his mentor’s professional beef is still raw. The Cash Money lawsuit has reportedly hit an impasse, and fans are dubious that Weezy will be freed anytime soon. Still, like I always say, if Drake could wait seven years for Rihanna to text him back, you can wait another year or two for Tha Carter V. Maybe Wayne will follow the lead of other YMCMB discontents and ditch the label for Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music—we hear he’ll sign just about anyone these days.
But Wayne’s legal woes haven’t scared away his diehard fan base. After announcing his retirement via Twitter, the rapper received an immediate virtual outpouring. Chance the Rapper tweeted, “I just wanna remind you that absolutely nothing and no one in this world can defeat you. Tell them devils back back.” Missy Elliott joined in, adding, “Prayers up 4 whatever u may be enduring right now this too will pass & may u find PEACE…I will always be a fan of your work.” Even hip-hop’s resident bleach blonde super villain (there’s always one) got all up in his feelings: Chris Brown shared a picture with Wayne on his Instagram, captioned, “This man helped my career in so many ways and has inspired me to live life!!! FOREVER WILL BE THE GREATEST RAPPER ALIVE!!!! NONe OF YOU RAPPERS WOULDNT EVEN KNOW WHERE TO START. REALISTICALLY MOST OF YALL ARE HIS STUDENTS AND DONT WANT TO ADMIT IT!!!” I, for one, would not be comforted by Chris Brown screaming at me in caps lock, but I guess it’s the thought that counts.
Drake once again followed in Brown’s footsteps, Instagramming a tribute to the hip-hop trailblazer and promising, “We are fighting until you get yours. Freedom to drop music and peace of mind.” As one of the most profitable moving pieces in the ongoing Cash Money/Lil Wayne litigation, Drake’s support is invaluable. But the sweetest Weezy shout-out came by way of Kendrick Lamar, who posted a possibly under-the-influence video of himself rapping some early Lil Wayne lyrics, before begging, “N***as talking about retiring and shit. Fuck that! Retire, quitting rap, whatever you wanna call it…Fuck that!” The expletive-laden video gets even less quotable from there, but Lamar’s plea to his hip-hop idol strikes an emotional chord.
Before you join the masses wailing in the streets and rending Yeezy garments apart, take solace in the fact that Lil Wayne is no recluse. The rapper performed on the Made in America festival stage just hours after his Twitter retirement. He also debuted a theme song he created for Undisputed. And just a few days ago, Wayne released a full track called “Grateful” featuring Gudda Gudda. The song swells and sermonizes about a new chapter in Weezy’s life, bragging, “They can’t put no more Weezy Baby out, that’s that Cash Money vasectomy.”
Ditching Birdman once and for all seems like the only way for Wayne to spread his wings and soar—ideally, not toward another rock album. That being said, Weezy’s personal demons are as numerous as his ongoing litigations. The 33-year-old suffers from epilepsy, and his frequent health problems have been increasingly well covered—this summer alone, Wayne likely suffered three seizures in just four weeks. It doesn’t take a team of detectives to draw a connection between Wayne’s hospital visits and his predilection for Lean, a thick cocktail that consists of promethazine, codeine cough syrup, and, for the more culinary-inclined connoisseur, Jolly Ranchers to taste. According to an addiction specialist, sippers gradually increase their Lean tolerance, and have to drink more to get their desired high. The more Lean you drink, the more likely you are to suffer some of the more serious effects, such as seizures. In June, Wayne allegedly downed three 16-oz bottles of Lean just hours before suffering multiple seizures aboard his private jet. We’re all for Kendrick’s heartfelt mash-up, but maybe one of Weezy’s acolytes should be telling their epileptic idol to step away from the codeine? Clearly, the opiate is starting to go to his head.