#8. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter II (2005)
Other works include: Tha Carter III, Rebirth
Jonathan Mannion: “Tha Carter II came about because I had done Cash Money’s first XXL cover. That was back when Lil Wayne was a 15-year-old, and Juvenile was the hottest rapper, with that record ‘Ha.’ Slim was there and Baby was just finding his footing. They’ve always moved as a family.
“I responded most to Wayne. I remember messing with him during that shoot. He’d be eating candy bars and drinking soda, and I kept turning my camera on him. He was like, ‘Man, stop. I’m supposed to be a gangster. Stop.’ And he’d be smiling, eating Cheetos.
He’d be eating candy bars and drinking soda, and I kept turning my camera on him. He was like, ‘Man, stop. I’m supposed to be a gangster. Stop.’ And he’d be smiling, eating Cheetos.
“From there, it was based on them feeling comfortable. I began to form a relationship with him, and I was able to see his journey from having a great voice and a quick ‘Bling Bling’ verse to being one of the kings of the whole game.
“They were doing all that Pen & Pixel stuff at the time. Pen & Pixel was coming up with one cover, based on a five-minute photo-shoot. Then, they’d drop everything in and computer-bling everything out. So I was brought in, because they needed stuff to serve as press. One of the shots from Tha Carter actually came from a press shoot that we did.
“I think my disposition, going the extra mile, and doing things that reflected where their minds were, was what solidified my presence at a lot of these shoots. For one shoot, I even took like ten-grand out of my bank account and stuck it up on the wall, in hundreds.
“It was the most expensive backdrop I’ve ever created. They asked me, ‘Is that real? Who gave you that money?’ I knew someone was going to do it, at some point. So I wanted to be the first one.
“When it came time for him to start making the decisions, which was around the birth of Young Money, he was like, ‘I want Jonathan Mannion, because he’s been good to us.’ We shot Tha Carter II in New Orleans, and ended up having a great shoot. It was all family.
“He had just bought that phantom for himself. So it was like he was turning the corner and realizing, ‘I’m the shit.’ Then, when it came time for Tha Carter III he was already raging and on fire.
“Getting down on Tha Carter III was crazy, and pretty special. He spit all of his ideas out to me on Friday, at 5:00, for a Monday photo shoot. So we went in triple-time—not wanting to disappoint—to achieve that. We got some amazing shots, but the cover was obviously not one of them. He picked the baby picture on his own.
“One of my favorite shoots with him, was for Rebirth. We referenced The Rolling Stones and a lot of footage from the ’70s, like the old Led Zeppelin tour stuff and the debauchery that happened, because of the attitudes and the amounts of money that were being thrown around. There was huge growth in Wayne.
“On his Behind The Music episode I got paid a huge compliment. The producers asked him if there were any writers or anyone else that had been there from the beginning, and he said, ‘Jonathan Mannion. He’s seen it all.’ It was a huge compliment to me, for him to be aware that someone had been there for the entire journey.
“It’s a really, really special position to have been in. It’s similar to how Muhammad Ali and Neil Leifer worked together for years. That access has been amazing.”