Is Lil Wayne the Most Influential Artist of This Era?: Head to Head with Edd

Welcome back to Head to Head with Edd, where yours truly goes toe-to-toe with the superfans of the game’s biggest artists. We’ll take a look at the selected artist’s biggest hits and misses and see where we can find common ground.

A few months back, my man Lil Brick stopped by to recap the career of his hero, Lil Wayne. But we had so much more to say that we had to do an even more dope follow-up, Carter II-style. Join us as Lil Brick and Papa Brick talk about how Dwayne Carter reshaped the world of rap as we know it.

How do you define ‘influence’ in hip-hop?

Lil Brick: I think the definition of “Hip Hop” itself has changed so often that it’s sometimes tough to even recognize what falls under the category these days. What started off as DJ/MC pairings rocking stages in New York has transformed into an extremely versatile range of sounds and styles that continues to develop at an increasingly rapid pace.

When taking that degree of constant variation into account, the most significant example of “influence” would, in my eyes, be the artists and projects that have caused those definitions to change. Whether it be the rise of sociopolitical lyricism in the 90s to the ringtone anthems and auto-tune experimentations of the 2000s, there have been several eras of Hip Hop even within its relatively short history. I think it’s the artists who fueled each of these era-changes that I’d be most inclined to award the title of “influential” to. When you look at the basic fact that Wayne has been a prominent force in several of these timelines, it becomes clear to see why he deserves credit as a Hip Hop powerhouse. 

Edd: Yeah, to your point, the meaning of “influence” has changed several times over the course of my fandom. Influence once was defined by how your album reshaped the sound at the moment – Rakim did it, Nas did it, West Coast’s G-Funk did it, etc.

Then influence was defined by financial success (Bad Boy, No Limit, and your boys as Cash Money Records embodied that) and currently, success is pretty much measured by social media impressions. In essence, it’s better to be “popular” than “good” these days. The times keep changing but in 2020, influence seems to be an amalgamation of all those things I mentioned – sound, money and social media popularity.

Which Lil Wayne album was the turning point for that influence?

Lil Brick: Wayne has 5 careers in one – the Hot Boyz era, the early solo struggles, the rise to stardom in the mid 2000s, the peak of his global popularity a few years after that, and now his post-Cash Money phase. I therefore think it would be silly to attribute any one particular album as a turning point, because he’s had countless turning points. That being said, the elephant in the room in such a discussion will obviously always be Tha Carter III. When the album first dropped in 2008, it was considered unorthodox; many critics even questioned if it was “Hip Hop” (changing of the guard as I mentioned before). Now, more than a decade later, it’s universally lauded as a classic and a staple of the genre. I think the reason for that change has been the realization of how impactful the album was – how many barriers it broke and how many new-wave artists came out of the post-Carter III landscape. 

Edd: Yes, you basically answered it with C3. Creatively, you could point to one of the DJ Drama mixtapes or Tha Carter II as career turning points, but on a global scale, yes, it’s Carter III that was right place, right time.

I’ve often said that hip-hop’s audience turns over every decade or so. While you’re right, there was a time where songs like “Lollipop” were criticized for not being hip-hop enough, newer fans didn’t have those biases. To them, it was fresh and new – and Wayne became the face of that movement.

Which sounds did Weezy popularize?

Lil Brick: Being a child star that teens and adults alike could vibe with? Check. Auto-tuned crooning? Check. A relentless work ethic and unparalleled run of both quality and quantity? Check. Putting out tons of free music during a time of declining sales? Check. Taking the most popular contemporary songs and remixing them to the point that no one even cared for the originals? Check. 50 Cent once called Wayne a “whore” for collaborating with anyone who came calling; now, features are exactly how artists build their careers and remain relevant. 

Edd: Cosign everything you just said, but add this – Wayne even changed the way songs were structured. Exhibit A: “A Milli.” Wayne’s stream-of-consciousness flow threw all the rules out of the window. There was no clear hook and there wasn’t a real need for one. The track relied more on energy than traditional structure, a change that a decade later has even seeped its way into R&B playlists.

Can you point to a specific song that was the turning point for his career?

Lil Brick: Imagine calling yourself the Best Rapper Alive for multiple years, taking shots at heralded lyricists like Jay-Z and Nas, and demolishing literally hundreds of beats non-stop, and then coming out with a record like “Lollipop” at the height of your stardom. The fact that the iconic R&B ballad was on the same album as no-hook bar fests like “A Milli” and “3 Peat” showcased how versatile Wayne was; experimentation and genre-bending may be commonplace these days, but then, it was largely unprecedented. To this day, it remains his biggest hit despite being nothing close to a representation of his true artistry. Without “Lollipop,” there may be no “Hotline Bling” or “Rockstar” or other mega-hits that have since come out of primarily rap-based artists. 

Edd: “Lollipop” absolutely is the one, and it breaks my heart that Static Major passed away before receiving his flowers for that one. He deserves just as much shine for pushing the genre forward.

As we said earlier, “Lollipop” still has a contentious relationship with hip-hop fans today. Y’all know I’m a traditionalist at heart but still, I love it – although I do recognize that what made that track fun and creative has been beaten to death by countless artists in recent years. The sing-songy delivery, repetitive production, strong emphasis on a catchy hook and de-emphasizing the actual verses – “Lollipop” is the blueprint for a decade of radio hits … for better or worse.

Which artists today – from sound to look to fan base – best represent Wayne’s legacy?

Lil Brick: I could list you 200 people right now, off top. Everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Drake to Young Thug to Lil Baby have cited Wayne as a major influence. Whether it be the punchline, IG-caption lyrics, or the overdosing of auto-tune, or the unorthodox, melodic flows, Wayne’s sonic impact prevails throughout the modern industry. His image and antics have been replicated over and over. Hip Hop right now is full of Wayne’s children and grandchildren. Snoop said it. Bun B said it. Period. 

Edd: Look playa, I just reviewed the LOX’s new album, where Sheek Louch outright says he’s better than all the Wayne pretenders out there. Now that’s not a shot at Wayne, but a declaration that Wayne’s got an army of lesser rap offspring.

Sonically speaking, pretty much every mumble rapper in the game right now has Wayne DNA in their veins. And as you’ve mentioned, even heavyweights like Drake, Kendrick and your girl Nicki can credit their cadence to Wayne.

And when it comes to image and style, come on playa, just google “rapper with dreads and face tats” – all 100 images that come up will be like that Spider-Man meme with the two guys pointing at each other.

Did Wayne’s influence help or hurt modern hip-hop?

Lil Brick: As passionate of a Wayne fan I am, and as much as I defend him from most criticism, I do think his influence was not necessarily always positive. His vulgarity, drug-promotion, and egotism certainly have had ramifications; there’s a reason hip hop purists and old-heads often don’t give Wayne his props. But ultimately, I think those things pale in comparison to his monstrous work ethic, unquestionable passion for music, resiliency through tough situations, relentless experimentation, and skills as a label boss. Sure, the pre-Carter III and post-Carter III hip hop landscapes are worlds apart, but ultimately, there’s a lot more good than bad when it comes to Wayne’s tremendous impact. 

Edd: You KNOW I’ve got feelings on this one playa. Taking away stuff like vulgarity and drugs that, in some form, have always been part of hip-hop I think Wayne’s influence did wonders for making hip-hop mainstream. Songs like the aforementioned catchiness of “Lollipop” made hip-hop way more assessable than the lyric-heavy, street-centric days of yore, which was a huge factor in its current mainstream dominance. Twenty-five years ago, going “pop” was the kiss of death in hip-hop. Now, hip-hop IS pop.

HOWEVER, that popularity comes with a cost. Now, more than ever, there is a “formula” for a hip-hop hit and that formula has been run into the ground. Hip-hop may be more popular than ever, but it’s also more formulaic than ever, with nearly every top-charting song sounding pretty much the same. Is that all Wayne’s fault? Of course not. He made the blueprint – unfortunately, that blueprint has been copy/pasted to death and I’m bored.

Is Lil Wayne the most influential artist of the modern era?

Lil Brick: Usually when I get asked this question, Kanye, Eminem, and Jay-Z come to mind. Newer hip hop fans may also bring up Future, Young Thug, or Chief Keef. But those three are largely offspring of Wayne himself, so I don’t quite think they match up. Eminem’s influence is mostly attributed to how much of a global outreach he brought into the genre’s audience, but purely musically, he doesn’t quite compare to Weezy’s impact. Kanye undoubtedly has changed the sounds and aesthetics of Hip Hop, but strictly in terms of rap skill, flows, lyricism, release frequency, and collaborative versatility, Wayne reigns supreme. And as great as Hov is, no one is trying to emulate his style of rap these days. 

Edd: If we’re talking modern era, I don’t see who else you can choose. As you said, I’m sure stans will scream DRAKE or FUTURE or THUGGER but  those artists owe too much of their sound to Wayne (or, in Drake’s case, The Weeknd, but y’all aren’t ready for that conversation). Eminem doesn’t get enough credit for introducing mainstream America to hip-hop in the early 2000s but he didn’t create a sound that other artists emulated to similar success. I’ve been riding with Jay since the mid-90s but his influence is mainly financial at this point. And though a very strong argument can be made for Kanye, even Current Kanye sounds more like Current Wayne than Old Kanye.

Y’all know I’ve been critical of Wayne’s musical output in recent years, but you can’t deny the paths he’s blazed – he’s the most influential artist of the past decade, bar none. This really is Wayne’s World.

Who spit more fax? Is Lil Brick right or did Edd come hardest? Let us know below.

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3 Comments

  1. A lot if people tend to say that Lil Wayne has such an annoying voice and is the worst to ever touch the mic. Another thing I’ve heard is that only his older stuff is good. But if you say he’s good then he can’t be that bad. As a youngin whose not well versed in hiphop were do you recommend me starting in his discography?

    • Carters 1-3 are essential listening, as well as the Dedication 2, Drought 3 and No Ceilings mixtapes. He had good stuff later but start with those.

  2. Thanks for the piece. Yes, in no order, mostly everything being done for the past 8-10 years does borrow (either immediately or by influence-of-an-influence) from these peep imo

    Drake
    ***Wayne***
    Rihanna
    Beyonce
    Chris Breezy
    Kanye
    Future
    Nicki
    Jeezy
    Jhene Aiko

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