Lil Wayne was a member of the hip-hop group the Hot Boys before embarking on a solo career with the albums Tha Carter and its hit follow-ups II, III, IV, and V. He received four Grammy Awards in 2009 for singles such as “A Milli” and “Lollipop,” and has collaborated with artists such as Robin Thicke and Nicki Minaj. The rapper has also had run-ins with the law on several occasions, serving time in prison in 2010 for criminal possession of a weapon.
Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. was born on September 27, 1982, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Since he was a child in Hollygrove, one of New Orleans’ poorest neighborhoods, Lil Wayne has been making music.
Lil Wayne began rapping at the age of eight. He later met Cash Money Records founders Bryan and Slim Williams, who were impressed enough with his abilities to give him one of their business cards. Wayne, ever ambitious, kept calling them until they took him under their wing and let him hang around the label’s offices.
True Stories (1993), Lil Wayne’s first Cash Money Records release, featured him alongside another talented rapper, B.G., as the BGs. He was living recklessly away from the studios. According to Rolling Stone, he once sold crack and accidentally shot himself in the chest. “It was my mother’s gun,” Wayne explained to the magazine in 2008. “It felt like a chopper had hit me. But the bullet passed right through, and I was back in two weeks.” Wayne later revealed in a 2018 interview with Billboard that the shot was an attempt on his life after his mother told him he couldn’t rap anymore.
‘Get It How U Live!!’ and ‘Guerilla Warfare’
Lil Wayne’s first taste of success came as a member of the Hot Boys. The group included several of Cash Money’s rising stars, including B.G., Juvenile, Turk, and Wayne. Get It How U Live!! (1997), their debut album, sold over 400,000 copies. Guerilla Warfare (1999), their next release, fared even better, selling over a million copies. Lil Wayne was on his way to music stardom at the age of 16.
‘Tha Block Is Hot’
Lil Wayne’s solo career began with Tha Block Is Hot (1999). The title track was a huge hit, and the album topped the hip-hop charts. The recording went double platinum and featured appearances by members of the Hot Boys as well as the Big Tymers (Brian Williams and Mannie Fresh). Fresh also worked as Wayne’s producer on the album.
‘Lights Out,’ ‘500 Degreez’ and ‘Da Drought’
Lights Out (2000) and 500 Degreez (2002), the rapper’s next two albums, sold fewer copies than his debut. Then, in a career-altering move, Lil Wayne forewent making a traditional style album in favor of releasing his first collection of underground mixtapes, Da Drought (2003). His mixtape tracks typically combine beats from other artists with new lyrics he writes.
‘Tha Carter’ and ‘Tha Carter II’
Lil Wayne released Tha Carter in 2004, a hugely successful album that helped solidify his reputation as one of rap’s leading performers. “Go D.J.” performed well on the hip-hop and pop charts. According to Rolling Stone critic Christian Hoard, “Wayne’s syrupy drawl sounds more dextrous than ever” on the album.
Following up on his recent success, Wayne released Tha Carter II in December 2005. The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard pop charts, earning Wayne more critical acclaim. Wayne’s popularity skyrocketed after he made a cameo appearance on Destiny’s Child’s smash hit “Soldier.”
‘Dedication, Vol. 2’ and ‘Like Father, Like Son’
Lil Wayne released several more popular mixtape recordings over the next few years, including the critically acclaimed Dedication, Vol. 2 (2006), which he made with DJ Drama. Around the same time, Wayne collaborated with Cash Money mentor Bryan William (also known as “Baby” and “Birdman”) on the album Like Father, Like Son (2006), which produced the hit “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy.”
Grammy Awards for ‘Tha Carter III’
Lil Wayne released the download-only EP The Leak in 2007 in response to several unreleased tracks becoming public via the internet. The songs came from his work on his eagerly awaited next studio album, Tha Carter III, which was finally released in 2008 and topped the rap, hip-hop, and pop charts, selling over 1 million copies in its first week.
Tha Carter III has several hit singles, including the No. 1 singles “A Milli” and “Lollipop,” which he recorded with Static Major.
Jay-Z appeared on “Mr. Carter,” and T-Pain appeared on “Got Money.” Cameos were also made by Babyface, Robin Thicke, Busta Rhymes, and Juelz Santana.
The project won the Grammy Award for best rap album, and Lil Wayne went on to win three more Grammys at the February 2009 awards ceremony, including best rap song for “Lollipop,” best rap solo performance for “A Milli,” and best rap performance by a duo or group for “Swagga Like Us,” which he shared with Jay-Z, T.I., and Kanye West.
Lil Wayne spent much of the summer of 2009 on the road with the Young Money Presents: America’s Most Wanted Music Festival, which also featured Young Jeezy, Soulja Boy, and Drake. Wayne signed rapper Bow Wow to his label in August 2009. The rapper collaborated with Jay Sean on his hit song “Down” from Sean’s 2009 album All of Nothing.
‘Rebirth’ and ‘I Am Not a Human Being’
In February 2010, Lil Wayne released his seventh studio album, the rock-influenced Rebirth. That same year, his eighth studio album, I Am Not a Human Being, was released. Both projects received positive feedback.
‘Tha Carter IV’ and ‘I Am Not a Human Being II’
Wayne released Tha Carter IV in August 2011, and it was a huge success. The album received 300,000 song downloads on iTunes in its first four days, setting a new record. Hits from the album include “Mirror,” which features Bruno Mars’ smooth vocals, and “It’s Good,” which features fellow rappers Drake and Jadakiss. Not one to rest on his laurels, Lil Wayne released his 10th studio album, I Am Not a Human Being II, to critical acclaim in March 2013. In its first week, the album sold 217,000 copies and debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200.
‘Free Weezy Album’ and ‘Tha Carter V’
While Tha Carter V was expected to follow, Wayne delayed its release due to disagreements with the Cash Money label, instead releasing the mixtape Sorry 4 the Wait 2 and his Free Weezy Album in 2015. After finally breaking free from his Cash Money contract in June 2018, the rapper’s long-awaited Tha Carter V debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 in September.
Arrests and Controversy
Lil Wayne has been in trouble with the law on several occasions due to his penchant for smoking marijuana. In 2006, he was arrested in Georgia for drug possession, and in January 2008, he was arrested again in Arizona on drug-related charges.
Another drug-related arrest in New York City in 2007 resulted in criminal charges for weapon possession, and Wayne spent eight months in 2010 behind bars at the city’s notorious Rikers Island complex. Gone Til’ November: A Journal of Rikers Island, his memoir of the experience, was published in 2016.
After signing a deal with PepsiCo to promote its Mountain Dew soda brand, Lil Wayne was fired in May 2013 after releasing a song with derogatory lyrics about civil rights icon Emmett Till.
Carter was arrested in December 2019 while flying on his private jet with a loaded handgun. A year later, he pled guilty, and President Donald Trump pardoned him in January 2021.
The rapper founded the One Family Foundation to help urban youth, through which he worked to rebuild the athletic fields at his old school, Eleanor McMain Secondary School, which were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Wayne previously married his high school sweetheart, with whom he has a daughter. He has three other children from previous relationships.