Lil Wayne Credit: NRK P3

Remember the Lil Wayne of 2008 and 2009? He constantly boasted that he was the “greatest rapper alive,” and you know what? He actually was. The 2008 album Tha Carter III, released about ten years into his career, was a full-blown landmark. It gave the world a string of smash singles, including “Lollipop” and “Got Money,” which showed Wayne’s knack for infectious pop hooks. And on “La La,” “You Ain’t Got Nuthin,” and the legendary “A Milli,” he solidified his reputation as an unstoppable MC by hammering out some of the fastest, cleverest, most skull-rattling wordplay ever committed to tape. Wayne got even wilder on 2009’s No Ceilings mixtape, which he supposedly recorded completely freestyle—he was at the apex of his game, his charisma and skill decimating every rapper around him. At the turn of the decade, Wayne was releasing new music and collaborations at such an astonishing clip (he even put out a rock record, Rebirth, in 2010) that it’s hard to fathom how he also found time to jump-start the careers of Drake and Nicki Minaj. Since then, Wayne’s been on a long, strange trip of his own—a prison sentence, hospitalizations for codeine withdrawal, countless face tattoos—but he’s still managed to keep the releases flowing. Some have been better than others, but none has held a candle to his best. As the years have gone by, Wayne’s delivery has begun to sound almost tired and mumbly. On his latest full-length, the seemingly never-ending 24-track Funeral, he occasionally achieves a moment of brilliance, but now that hip-hop has made a viral hit out of a Rascal Flatts medley sung by a heavily armed man in a ski mask and designer bulletproof vest, Wayne kinda sounds old-fashioned. At the end of the day, though, freaky modern rappers wouldn’t exist without Lil Wayne—even as his output becomes less relevant, his importance can’t be denied.   v