Lil Wayne: From Rags to Riches

One of the world’s 10 wealthiest rappers and hip hop artists netting $150 million in 2018 according to Wealthy Gorilla, Lil Wayne continues to blitz the charts with his unique brand of music and vocals that is characteristically his. Starting his musical journey at the age of 9, Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr continues to enjoy the adulation of fans. He has a number of music awards under his belt including 5 Grammies and an American Music Award. Of the less than 180 nominations Lil Wayne received, 64 of them resulted in amazing wins.

Early Phase of the Journey

Lil Wayne started his journey in the music industry in 1991, although he already wrote his very first rap song a year earlier at the age of 8. He met Cash Money Records owner and rapper Bryan Williams in the summer of that year. Williams encouraged the young Carter to record freestyle raps to be played on Williams’ answering machine. Recognizing Carter’s talent, Williams took him in his wings as Lil Wayne’s mentor. To harness the musical gifts of the kid, Williams included Carter in the development of songs released and distributed by Cash Money.

At age 11, Carter collaborated with then 14-year-old rapper B.G. to produce the True Story album. In 1996 the then-15-year old Carter joined rappers Juvenile, Turk, and B.G. to form the hip hop group Hot Boys. In the same year, the group released their debut album titled “Get It How U Live!”. One of their singles in the album, “We on Fire”, hit the charts.

After about two years, the group released their major-label album titled “Guerilla Warfare”. The album hit the top spot on the Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart of Billboard while reaching No. 5 on Billboard 200. One of the album’s singles, “I Need a Hot Girl” also hit the charts.

At age 17, Lil Wayne released “Tha Block Is Hot” debut solo album which reached Billboard 200’s number 3 spot. The album was later given a Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America. The same album earned Lil Wayne a “Best New Artist” nomination for Source Magazine in 1999.

His follow-up album did not enjoy the same success as “Tha Block Is Hot”. Critics of “Lights Out” say the verses in the singles contained in the album lacked coherence, further arguing that Carter still has much to learn to grow into the same level of musical ingenuity as the other members of the Hot Boys. “Lights Out” was nonetheless certified Gold by RIAA.

Carter released his third album “Tha Carter” in 2004 which saw substantial improvement in the lyrical themes and rapping style of the budding artist. Fans know the album too well as this was the first time that Lil Wayne sported on the covert art his now-iconic dreadlocks. The album sold 878,000 copies in continental US. The album’s single, “Go DJ” reached the R&B/Hip Hop Chart’s number 5 position.

The following year, Carter released “Tha Carter II” which sold about 240,000 copies within the first week of the album’s release. The album debuted at Billboard 200’s albums chart at the number 2 spot. This paved the way for the record-selling performance of the album at more than 2 million copies worldwide.  The album’s “Fireman” reached the No. 32 spot on Billboard Hot 100.

The year 2006 marked Lil Wayne’s change in focus from solo albums to one of collaborations and mixed tapes, although he was already doing more of the former ever since he started in the music industry.

Carter’s first mixtape, “Dedication 2” featured Carter and DJ Drama and was released in 2006. The production was critically acclaimed for one of its most socially conscious tracks titled “Georgia Bush”. Lil Wayne used the album to issue a harsh critique of then US-President George W. Bush for his response to Hurricane Katrina’s effects on the people of New Orleans.

Lil Wayne’s second mixtape, “Da Drought 3” was perceived to be the artist’s tribute to the hits of other musicians, turning the musical pieces into an upbeat rap. Vibe and XXL, two very prominent magazines in the hip hop community, covered Lil Wayne’s “Da Drought”.

Carter also appeared in a number of singles by notable singers as a featured artist. These included Chris Brown’s “Gimme That”, Fat Joe’s “Make it Rain”, DJ Khaled’s “We Takin’ Over”, Playaz Circle’s “Duffle Bag Boy”, and Wyclef Jean’s “Sweetest Girl”, among others.

In June 2008, Lil Wayne released “Tha Carter III”, hitting more than a million copies sold in just 7 days. The album’s first single, “Lollipop”, topped the charts of Billboard Hot 100 while the 3rd single in the album “Got Money” settled for No. 13 on the Hot 100 list. The same album gave Lil Wayne two of his first 4 Grammy Awards that included the Best Rap Song and Best Rap Album awards. The other two were for his roles in T.I.’s “Swagga Like Us” and “A Milli” earning him the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group and Best Solo Rap Performance, respectively. RIAA certified “Tha Carter III” as two times Platinum in July of 2008. The album went on to be recognized as the year’s best-selling record, selling more than 3 million copies.

By April of 1999, Lil Wayne released his 6th album, “Rebirth” which was deemed a reissue of the hit album “Tha Carter III” that featured leftover recordings. In December of the same year, Carter released “We Are Young Money” in collaboration with Young Money. The album got Gold status from RIAA in May 2010 after selling more than half a million copies. He sang with Madonna in one of the pop icon’s greatest hits, the 2009 “Celebration”. Two of “We Are Young Money’s” singles, “Prom Queen” and “On Fire” hit the Billboard Hot 100 list at numbers 15 and 33, respectively.

Latter Projects

The second decade of the new millennia saw the continuing growth of Lil Wayne in his chosen profession, further cementing his status as one of the generation’s most productive rappers, singers, songwriters, and even actors and record executives.

Hinting on the possibility of releasing a follow-up to his “Tha Carter” series, Lil Wayne instead released “I Am Not a Human Being” in 2010 as his 10th album. Incidentally, the album was released to coincide with Lil Wayne’s birthday on the 27th of September gaining almost a million copies in the US market alone. Its single titled “Right Above It” gained the No. 6 spot on the Hot 100 list of Billboard.

In August of 2011, Lil Wayne finally released “Tha Carter IV” which landed on Billboard 200’s top spot the moment it the stores, gaining close to a million copies sold in the first 7 days. This made “Tha Carter IV” Lil Wayne’s third album to top the charts.

In March of 2013, Carter released “I Am Not a Human Being 2”, hitting the No. 2 spot of Billboard 200. Unfortunately, it didn’t do well at the stores especially when compared to the near-million copies sold of his other albums in the first week alone. The 2nd take of the “I Am Not a Human Being” only gained a little less than 220,000 copies in the first week, more than 700,000 copies less than Lil Wayne’s previous chart-topping albums. Critics say that his latest release has significantly dipped in terms of quality. This never stopped Lil Wayne from going ahead with his final album in the “Tha Carter” series, the “Tha Carter V”.

The final album in the series was scheduled to be released in May 2014 as Lil Wayne and Drake hinted during their performance at the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend. However, it was rescheduled for December of the same year. Unfortunately, this was again postponed because of some irreconcilable differences between Lil Wayne and Birdman, the label boss of Cash Money Records. Because of the delay in the release of “Tha Carter V”, Lil Wayne instead released a sequel to the mixtape he produced in 2011. Lil Wayne’s “Sorry 4 the Wait 2” literally became the all-important instrument that voiced his displeasure with and resentment for Cash Money Records and Birdman.

Towards the middle of the year, still feeling being imprisoned by Cash Money Records, Carter released the “Free Weezy Album” in obvious reference to his travails at Cash Money. The album was made under Republic Records and Young Money and was distributed through TIDAL, a music, video, and podcast streaming service maintained by Aspiro AB of Norway.

After more than 4 years after it was first scheduled to be released, “Tha Carter V” finally hit the shelves in September 2018, This was only made possible when Cash Money Records released Lil Wayne from its roster in June 2018. The release of the fifth installment in the Carter series was made through Universal Records, debuting at the top spot of the US Billboard 200.

Personal Life

Having been born in an impoverished New Orleans neighborhood in Hollygrove, Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr had a more difficult childhood than those who grew up with silver on their plates. He grew up without a father who abandoned their family when he was still 2 years old. His mother had to do everything she could to raise the family, serving as a cook at a local restaurant.

In an interview with CBS’s Katie Couric, Carter explained why he chose to use “Wayne” instead of “Dwayne”. His answer reflected his disdain for his biological father who also went by the name of Dwayne Carter. He said he dropped the ‘D” from his name as a sign of resentment towards Carter Sr.

On Valentine’s Day 2004, Lil Wayne married Antonia Johnson who bore him their first child, Reginae. He was only 16 when Reginae was born. The marriage did not last, however, as the couple got divorced in 2006.

Lil Wayne had 4 other relationships following his failed marriage with his high school sweetheart. The first of these was Sarah Vivan, a radio broadcaster who gave birth to Dwayne III in October 2008. Dwayne III is Lil Wayne’s second child.

Carter was also attached to American actress, TV personality, and model Lauren Nicole London who bore Lil Wayne’s third child, Cameron in September 2009. Grammy nominee Nivea B. Hamilton gave birth to Lil Wayne’s fourth child, Neal in November 2009. Carter was also in a relationship with fellow American rapper Katrina Laverne Taylor. Unfortunately, Trina suffered a miscarriage which could have brought Lil Wayne his fifth child.


One of the most striking things about being a celebrity is that your life can never be peaceful as one simple case can be easily exaggerated and blown out of proportions. Lil Wayne was never immune to such rumors, although there were many instances where some of these rumors turned out to be facts.

In August 2008, there circulated on the internet stories about the death of Lil Wayne’s daughter, Reginae. The rumor had it that Reginae was fatally injured in a car crash. Carter immediately dispelled the rumors as such, further assuring his adoring fans that all members of his family are alive and well.

Then, there was the rumor about Lil Wayne having contracted HIV/AIDS. The rumor sprang from one of Lil Wayne’s supposed statements made on which advised everyone especially those rising superstars to wear protection. He mentioned that it is inadvertent that stars can get caught up with groupies and strippers, according to the satire site. This fueled speculation that Carter had contracted HIV/AIDS, a phenomenon that is quite common among celebrities. Naturally, Weezy dispelled the rumors after the hashtag #Prayforweezy began gaining ground on social media.

There is another rumor that turned out to be true, although Young Money Entertainment continues to claim that the news has been blown out of proportion. In October 2012, Lil Wayne was bound for Los Angeles aboard his private jet when they had to make an emergency landing in Texas. Tabloid news website TMZ reported the incident and claimed that Lil Wayne went into seizure onboard his plane. Carter’s publicist denied the report saying his client merely had severe dehydration and migraine.

When they resumed their flight the following day, the plane had to land again because of a medical emergency. This time, they landed in Louisiana after Lil Wayne again had seizure. As usual, the PR people of Lil Wayne dismissed the reports, saying that Lil Wayne is not in a hospital. He was, in fact resting at his home in Louisiana. In November 2012, Lil Wayne revealed in an interview with MTV that he is currently taking anti-seizure medications because of the two incidents in October that were vehemently denied by his publicist.

Legal Issues

Lil Wayne is not really a role model for the youth in the strictest sense of the word. Sure, he made millions because of his natural gifts, but just like any other rising superstar, Lil Wayne always had problems with the law.

In July of 2007, Carter was arrested for smoking marijuana and for possessing a .40 caliber pistol. He pleaded guilty in October 2009 and expected to receive a county jail sentence not to exceed 1 year. The sentencing was done in March 2010 after having been postponed for several times. He served the sentence in Rikers Island until November after serving only 8 months of his sentence.

In October of 2007, Lil Wayne was also arrested for the possession of a controlled substance. However, the case was described as a mix-up so the charges were dropped.

In January 2008, Carter was arrested in Arizona for the possession of 3.7 oz of marijuana, 1.4 oz of ecstasy, and 1.0 oz of cocaine. The rapper was charged with four counts. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in May 2008 and was scheduled for a trial management conference in March 2010. However, by this time, the rapper was already incarcerated on Rikers Island. He pleaded guilty to the charges. He was sentenced in June 2010 and served 3 years of probation.

In December 2009, Carter was among 12 people who were detained at a border patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas for possession of an unknown amount of marijuana.

Lil Wayne was also made the defendant in a number of lawsuits including Abkco Music Inc. for unfair competition and copyright infringement; RMF Productions for cancellation of shows after advance payments have been made; and Thomas Marasciullo for copyright infringement. There were also a number of entities who sued Lil Wayne and either Cash Money or Young Money or both because of unpaid royalties. These included the producers Deezle, Bangladesh, David Kirkwood, and Play-N-Skillz.

These allegations put to question the authenticity of the artist’s true talents. It would seem that all those hits that sold millions of copies were nothing more than the creation of other people who should have been given the credit and not this kid from New Orleans. Regardless, no one can deny the uniqueness of his vocals. And this is something that his fans have truly admired in the singer/rapper the world fondly calls as Weezy.