The BoomBox caught up with the Cash Money Records co-founder one month prior to Lil Wayne's release, and despite discussing some of the many projects he and his music family are working on, Wayne getting out of prison was the main topic on Birdman's mind.
Their relationship goes far beyond merely a labelhead and an artist, transcending into that of a father and son, a bond they further solidified with the release of their joint 2006 album 'Like Father, Like Son.' Born and raised in the Hollygrove neighborhood of New Orleans, Lil Wayne built his rapport with Birdman and the Cash Money label when he was just 11-years-old. The then youngster, born Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., showed intellectual prowess as a straight-A student, but used his rap lyrics as a form of expression within a somewhat tumultuous upbringing. Rapping under the moniker Gangsta D, Wayne was determined not to let his age be an obstacle in reaching his dreams of hip-hop stardom, convincing the label to bring him on board, to do anything including odd jobs around the office. Fast forward to almost a decade later, and Cash Money has become a musical force to be reckoned with, with Wayne at the forefront of their success.
In just one year, Birdman and brother Ronald "Slim" Williams, have gone from pushing Wayne's career to adding big name newcomers like Nicki Minaj and Drake to their roster, solidifying their place as the label to either beat or join. "We don't let the money make us, we make the money," Birdman said. "Wayne is the mold for artists to me. A lot of the youngsters that we have, we're the forefront for them, and they're trying to accomplish things that we are doing. Drake is on his first album, Nicki still hasn't put out an album. We are on our eleventh album, so it's just [about] working hard, being there for them and staying grounded." This year's Cash Money roll call has swelled to include producers Kool and Dre, DJ Khaled and Bow Wow, and according to Baby, they've still got a long way to go. "I feel like we have a team, I would like to build us an army. Universal [Records] got 155 acts, we ain't even got a third of that, so we gotta just keep growing."
But what about Wayne? Will he be able to maintain his strong-hold on the music industry after his release? Judging by the music charts, the answer is yes. Just a couple years shy of turning 30-years-old, Weezy has been lauded as one of the "greatest rappers alive," and his career and popularity hasn't lost its footing since being locked away on New York's Rikers Island. The Grammy winner dropped the album 'I Am Not a Human Being" while incarcerated which earned him the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
"Honestly I think this project is more like our traditional music," Birdman explained of 'I Am Not a Human Being.' "It's like the raw beats and raw rap, just being able to hear him spit. Once he got locked away he said he'll wait to come home and re-do 'Carter IV.'"
Wayne has had his share of personal missteps. His current prison sentence stems from the July 2007 search of his tour bus which uncovered both firearms and illegal drugs. After pleading guilty to weapons possession charges the father of four was handed a one-year sentence, which has been scaled down to eight months for good behavior. But his time behind bars hasn't been without incident. As previously reported, two Rikers Island prison guards have been disciplined for fraternizing with the rapper. Wayne has also gotten himself into trouble for listening to music on his MP3 player, a move which landed him in solitary confinement for the last month of his sentence. Then there's the legal hiccup he faces after his November 4 release. After getting out of prison, he will head to Arizona to appear in court on a separate drug charge but will avoid more prison time, after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Following his release from Rikers, Lil Wayne will hopefully stay on the straight and narrow. It is estimated that 47% of the nation's inmates will be locked up again within one year of their release. For inmates locked up on Rikers Island, the rate jumps to an estimated 65%, and unfortunately, being a hip-hop artist doesn't bar Wayne an exception to the recidivism rule. T.I., who after serving seven months in federal prison last year, will head right back to begin another sentence on Nov. 1. This week, Tip, who like Wayne runs his own label, and has seen his success transcend the realm of hip-hop music into film, returned to the very same Arkansas prison where he served his previous time to do an 11-month bid, for violating his probation when he was caught with ecstasy pills back in September.
Even though the odds may be against him, Birdman continues to stand by Wayne regardless of his missteps hoping to encourage him to steer clear of any more legal trouble. Admitting the he has also made his share of mistakes prior to his success in the music business, at 41, Birdman is more about setting a good example rather than harping on the past. "I was once doing crazy s--- and getting into trouble. God does things for a reason and I know [the time behind bars] is gonna better Wayne."