In 2007, New Orleans emcee Lil Wayne put out enough music—guest spots, mixtape gold and look-the-other-way studio leaks—that Vibe magazine could run a feature highlighting the top 77 tracks he released that year. No typo: 77. What's more, Vibe actually narrowed it down a bit to arrive at that appealing figure.
Think about that number a second: Few artists have ever been so prolific. Even without a proper studio release last year, Wayne was everywhere. There was his verse on R&B upstart Lloyd's Street Love standout "You" and his rapper-eating turn alongside Akon, T.I., Fat Joe, Baby and Rick Ross in DJ Khaled's "We Takin' Over." Wayne bolstered Fall Out Boy's "This Ain't A Scene..." with a gem of a mixtape verse and presented his first successful dalliance with singing croak on Playaz Circle's "Duffle Bag Boy." So much music, and in so many permutations—from harsh street grit to R&B sheen, and pop punk swagger to spacey schizoid soul. You couldn't turn on the radio, sit down in front of BET or fire up the Internet without stumbling over something new from Weezy F. Baby, the self-proclaimed best rapper alive.
And more often than not, it was impressive stuff, dually embodying the hungry 15-year-old kid who came up on the streets of Hollygrove, singing about hot blocks with B.G., Turk and Juve, and the highly evolved juggernaut of messianic braggadocio he's become. So for every sports boast—"I must be LeBron James if he's Jordan," Weez sprays on the Jay-Z skewering "Dough Is What I Got"—there's the sort of clarion call that rightly landed atop Vibe's list: "I am the beast, feed me rappers or feed me beats."
But as much as his appeal stems from his increasingly innovative word play, his immediately identifiable alien rasp, or that undeniable swagger, his brilliance is also an issue of responsiveness and awareness that sets him apart from his peers. Weezy doesn't dictate the way Kanye, Diddy or even Jay-Z do. Marquee hip-hop, perhaps more than any other genre, is about blowing up singles and riding the radio airplay and MTV spins to the bank. Sure, there's the mixtape underground, but few artists approach every stop in the booth—be it for a DJ Drama one-off, a studio release on the label's dime, or a simple guest spot—with the same intensity Wayne does. And that's because he gets it: Fans make hits. And in the age of blogs and MySpace and message boards, everything is a potential hit.
When the music press talks about the "democratizing power of the Internet," they're mostly talking about indie artists finding new avenues to success. But Lil Wayne is one of few major label artists to exploit that same power on his huge scale. Last year, fans could listen to purposefully leaked material from his follow-up to 2005's Tha Carter II, new verses over current hits on Da Drought 3 mixtape, and countless rhymes on other releases. Instead of spending months setting up a record and clubbing his fans over the head with glitzy videos and radio singles, he showered them with music on the Web and let the listeners pick the winners. These floodwaters have been a marketing coup, even affecting the way Wayne's label treated this year's Tha Carter III. Instead of testing one single, Cash Money Records released a bunch of tunes from the record in quick succession. While "Lollipop" got the ground game, "A Milli" came out on top.
Luckily, Wayne shows no signs of decelerating. If anything, the pace is quickening. In recent interviews, he's mentioned re-releasing the already double-platinum Tha Carter III with all new songs, heading into the studio for Tha Carter IV, teaming with T-Pain for a project called T-Wayne, and continuing his DJ Drama-helmed mixtape series, The Dedication. A 99-track '09? Maybe that's just what it takes to be the best rapper alive.
The Lil Wayne, Birdman and Cupid show scheduled for RBC Center Friday, Oct. 31, at 8 p.m. was canceled on Oct. 24. For refund information, visit www.ticketmaster.com.