Lil Wayne is still one of the greatest rappers alive.
Yes, that claim has taken some hits lately. His ongoing feud with Birdman is heartbreaking, he recently took to Twitter and seemed to hint at retirement, "Tha Carter IV" can’t get a release date and hungry kids like Young Thug are openly trolling him with records like "Barter 6. Wayne’s talent is great enough that an eventual comeback seems inevitable, but who knows? Maybe he’s happy to ride off into the sunset and raise his kids. After all, there’s really no doubting his legacy.
In 2017 the biggest names in rap are Rae Sremmurd, Migos, Future, Drake and the aforementioned Young Thug. All of them were mentored, directly or indirectly, by Lil Wayne. His liquid, whip-smart flow fundamentally changed how rap verbiage could sound. His punchlines were effortless, immortal and uniquely him. His business model of releasing a constant spray of can’t-miss mixtapes that savagely repossess hot beats from complacent rappers has been emulated by everyone looking to get famous. In 2017, even after a hellish couple of years, Lil Wayne is as relevant as ever. Here are his 10 best songs.
10. "Mrs. Officer"
Lil Wayne has done an excellent job establishing an anything-goes mythology, so on "Tha Carter III," where he regails us with a story about a tender sexual encounter with a female police officer in a patrol car, there’s reason to believe he might actually be serious. With lines as corny as "I said lady, what’s your number? She said 911," he’s probably pulling our leg, but the confluence of sex, police and expensive automobiles offers a ton of bon mot opportunities that always seem to thrill Weezy. Bobby Valentino sings a sweet, featherweight hook and one of the most banal angles in pop history somehow becomes kind of adorable.
9. "Dough is What I Got"
Today, with the weirdo yelps of Future, Young Thug and Rae Sremmurd dominating the Hot 100 and Atlanta serving as the hottest city in rap, you might forget that Wayne’s ascendence as the best rapper alive in the mid-’00s was deeply controversial. For a minute, it felt like the battle lines were drawn between Jay-Z's mafioso traditions and Wayne’s Cash Money generation (a feud that was dismissed when Jigga was featured on "Tha Carter III’s" "Hello Brooklyn 2.0."). But Wayne still took the best shot of the skirmish with "Dough is What I Got," a savage mixtape flip of Jay’s "Show Me What You Got" from his embarrassing comeback record "Kingdom Come." "You might wanna fall back like August / or late September, whatever you call it." He came for the throne, and he did not miss.
8. "How To Love"
This will undoubtedly be a controversial choice. “How To Love” arrived in 2011, deep into Wayne’s weird identity crisis where he didn’t seem all that interested in rapping anymore. He had put out an abysmal rock album in "Rebirth," "Tha Carter IV" was a middling half-step with more misses than hits and he hasn’t had a full-length that truly stuck since. "How To Love" is an acoustic love song where Wayne sings — yes, sings — about a genuine romance he lost along the way, and somehow it actually works. Weezy is one of the greatest rappers of all time, but there’s reason to wonder if he would’ve better off later in his career if he pursued his muse wherever it took him.
7. "Tha Block is Hot"
People forget how long Lil Wayne has been rapping. At 34, he’s been performing (and providing for his family) for 20 years, and a lot of his early material is still vital. In 1999 he put out his first album, "Tha Block Is Hot," headlined by a bubbly Mannie Fresh-produced title track that served as one of the public’s first introductions to the kid from Hollygrove. Little 17-year-old Lil Wayne, still shirtless, still working on his defining weeze, dropping bars worthy of someone twice his age. It carried him all the way to No. 65 on the Hot 100, and he hasn’t left since.
6. "I Feel Like Dying"
If you’ve watched the sobering documentary "The Carter," you’re aware of the destructive path Weezy was on at the height of his career. A constant blend of weed, syrup, molly and whatever else — it’s not exactly a unique story as far as superstardom goes, but Wayne was willing to let his pain show. There are not many rap songs with a hook as candid as "only when the drugs are gone, I feel like dying." Wayne is one of the best rappers alive, but when he’s not coding that talent into taut puns, he’ll blindside you with devastating admissions like "jumping off a mountain into a sea of codeine, I’m at the top of the top, but still I climb."
5. "Stuntin' Like My Daddy"
You probably know the story. Birdman, founder of Cash Money Records, effectively stepped in as a father figure for Lil Wayne at the very beginning of his career. Together, they grew impossibly close, feeding off each other’s success and building a legitimate empire. In recent years a contract dispute caused a falling out between the two men, and today they remain estranged. That makes listening to their collaboration on "Stuntin’ Like My Daddy" tough now, but it’s still good to listen to the great music these two were capable of when they were on the same page. At its core, it’s a song about how Birdman helped save Wayne’s life, and we hope they’ll find that love again soon.
4. "Georgia … Bush"
Weezy has never been the most political rapper on the planet, and at his height old heads were turned off by his helium flow and relentless opulence. But the centerpiece of his masterclass mixtape "Dedication 2" is a seasick reimagining of Ray Charles immortal "Georgia On My Mind," and Wayne leaves everything on the line. "I was born in the boot at the bottom of the map, New Orleans baby, now the White House hating, trying to wash us away like we not on the map." It’s an aching artifact released in the wake of one of the greatest injustices in modern American history, and proof that Wayne is perfectly capable of using his powers for good.
It’s really hard to settle on a favorite Wayne record. From 2005 to 2008 he put out more memorable music than entire record labels. The genesis, of course, is "Tha Carter II," a dense, nihilistic tangle of bangers with a blacked-out Weezy at the center. "Fireman" folds in a frantic synth and a couple stiff left hooks from a dollar-store drum machine, and a bloodthirsty Wayne makes his nascent case for best rapper in the world. Years later everyone from Waka Flocka Flame to Kendrick Lamar would borrow some of "Fireman’s" swagger. We imagine Lil Wayne is still waiting for his back tax.
2. "6 Foot 7 Foot"
No other song packs the same rapid-fire, non-sequiturial punch in Lil Wayne’s career, which is really saying something for a guy who made himself famous by stretching the limits of the English language. Honestly, what’s your favorite "6 Foot 7 Foot" flip? "Talking to myself because I am my own consultant?" "Try me and run into a wall; outfielder?" "I got through that sentence like a subject and a predicate?" Our favorite, and probably the greatest punchline in Wayne’s career, is "real G’s move in silence like lasagna." There are plenty of capable of rappers out there, but when Wayne is firing on all cylinders, he is an elemental force.
1. "A Milli"
According to lore, it was a freestyle. Bangladesh pulled the curtain back on a still ridiculous, euphoric, impossible beat. A slurry, chopped-and-screwed disciple chanting the titular mantra over and over again like a Hollygrove druid. Wayne was supposed to rap about his stacks, but as he’s wont to do, quickly went off topic. Orville Redenbacher, pushing flowers, sharing showers, Andre 3000 and Erykah Badu sharing the same bar — it’s bizarre, otherworldly and definitively Weezy. After "A Milli" dropped and "Tha Carter III" moved a million-plus in its first week, Wayne went into a bit of a creative dark period — harried by an eight-month prison sentence and a burgeoning feud with Cash Money founder Birdman. In that sense, "A Milli" feels extra special. A parting gift from a historic run. We can miss those days, but he don’t owe you like two vowels.