As we prepare to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Complex in 2012, we’ve begun revisiting some of our favorite stories. Exactly five years ago, Lil Wayne and Travis Barker appeared together on the magazine’s cover. Wayne’s statement that he was “better than Jay-Z” appeared as a cover line, causing a flurry of discussion in certain circles when that issue hit stands.
The full transcript of Toshitaka Kondo’s interview with Lil Wayne has never been published before now. Though it is five years old, the conversation sheds new light on the complex relationship between hip-hop’s two Mr. Carters—and the never-ending quest for respect that is hip-hop. With Lil Wayne’s “It’s Good” being named his No. 1 verse of 2011, this interview seems more relevant than ever.
At the time Wayne was in the prime of his mixtape era. Tha Carter III was still more than a year away. Meanwhile Jay-Z had just ended his retirement and returned to the rap game with the first singles from Kingdom Come. Wayne obviously viewed Jay with a great deal of respect, but that didn’t stop the young Cash Money millionaire from asserting his own claim to rap’s No. 1 spot. Because really, what else is there?
Weezy had been up in the studio all night working on his Juelz Santana collaboration Can’t Feel My Face, which may explain why our interview, which was scheduled for 11 a.m., didn’t get started until almost 2 p.m. But the wait was well worth it.
Wayne was rested, focused, and spoke with passion about everything from his childhood in New Orleans to the finer points of firing an AK. He let us know how he was raising his daughter Reginae and why he calls Birdman his “Daddy.” Wayne also shared his thoughts (at the time) about Jay-Z, Kanye West, Pharrell and The Clipse—as well as his surprising picks for the (other) best MCs in the game circa 2006.
Interviewed by Toshitaka Kondo (@ToshitakaKondo); Photography by Matt Doyle
Complex: So what’s going on with you, man?
Lil’ Wayne: Money, man.
I heard you were in the studio real late. You were in there until like, 7?
So what have you been recording for us so far?
Everything man. I ain’t never record for no one single thing; I just be recording.
Okay, so how’s Tha Carter III coming along so far?
I ain’t working on that right now. I’m working on, like, Can’t Feel My Face.
Well what’s…have you guys decided yet whether that’s coming out as…?
That’s an album.
That’s definitely coming out as an album?
Have you figured out what situation you’re going to go under?
Nah, I don’t know yet.
Everything you hear I gets paid for. You hear me on everything, I get paid for everything. I made $10 million without putting an album out.
Regarding Tha Carter III, I’ve been reading in King about how with Tha Carter you had been doing kind of like the four-bar punches, but when we talked for MTV you said with Tha Carter II you’d recorded all one-takes and stuff. What’s been your recording process for Tha Carter III in terms of your approach?
I’m just a monster, man. I just go in there, and whatever comes or wherever I stop…If I want to add something else to it, I do it. I’m just a monster. It’s really like, you can’t put no comment…You know what I mean? I’m just a monster. I just go in there and do what I do. Nobody can’t do what I do anyways, so there’s really no strategy to what I do. Cause if there was a strategy that means you could go in there and do it too.
Oh, so you’re saying it’s not really a strategy cause if there was you could mimic it?
But you can’t really be mimicked.
I feel you. A lot of people have been following you since you were first on Juvenile’s album, even way back with Cash Money, a lot of people didn’t know you’d become what you’ve become now—regarded as one of the top rappers in the game. At what point in your career did it dawn on you that you were like ‘Oh shit, I’m up there. Like, I’m one of those dudes?’
I would say the only point in my career where that dawned on me is now. I mean, I always felt I should have been there, and I still feel people don’t put me there. But now I know that lyrically I’m there. And I know that people don’t want to put me there. So now I know that I can say fuck whoever is there cause I’m sposta be there, and they can’t fuck with me. So, I know I could say that now. I got that… I came to that point now.
Like, just now?
Not just now. Like, you know, recently.
What was it?
It was just making $10 million off of rapping and I ain’t put out one album. Just doing shit like that. Being on everybody’s singles, still on everybody’s single…
When you say you made 10 million dollars, how do you do that without an album?
Be on everybody’s single. I get paid for everything I do.
So everything you hear I gets paid for. You hear me on everything, I get paid for everything. I made $10 million without putting an album out.
That’s a lot of money. Like what is that encompassing? The “Soldier” song? What were some of the things…?
Nah, it started all the way from—that was one of the big moves though, that was one of the big moves.
But you know man, I’ve done over… Dog, just to name a few, I’ve done Destiny’s Child, I’ve done Nelly Furtado, I’ve done Justin Timberlake, I’ve done Chris Brown—I done Chris Brown again last night. I’ve done Mya, Kelly Rowland. These are new people that’s coming out. These are new singles…