By Justin Ivey
Lil’ Wayne is coming to town, but he’s also arriving at a career crossroads. The New Orleans native sets foot in Baton Rouge Wednesday night for a performance at the XO Nightclub as the relationship with his longtime label Cash Money Records appears to be disintegrating and the trajectory of his career begins to shift.
While tonight’s show is ostensibly a gig promoting the Sorry 4 The Wait 2 mixtape, it might be a firsthand glimpse at next chapter in the Lil’ Wayne story. For the past decade, Wayne has arguably been hip-hop’s biggest star. In the mid to late 2000s, Wayne’s status at the top was undeniable. Jay-Z and Kanye West were among the few rappers who could truly rival Lil’ Wayne’s stardom.
In 2015, the landscape is much different. Lil’ Wayne is now performing at clubs instead of the arenas he routinely sold out in the past. Drake and Nicki Minaj, both signed to Lil’ Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment imprint, have usurped his status in the pop limelight while Kendrick Lamar has claimed the role of hip-hop’s leading man. Wayne’s status is still lofty, but he’s no longer the major player he once was. And more importantly, Lil’ Wayne is involved in an ugly legal battle with Cash Money Records.
In January, a 21-paged lawsuit was leaked onto the Internet revealing that Lil’ Wayne was suing Cash Money Records for $51 million. This put him at odds with the label’s co-founder Bryan “Birdman” Williams, a man Wayne had developed a father-son relationship with over the years. This was far from the first monetary dispute between Cash Money and one of its artists, but it was the most surprising.
The conflict first became public when Lil’ Wayne’s album Tha Carter V was not released last December as planned. Wayne took to Twitter and blamed Williams for the album’s delay. He also expressed his desire to leave Cash Money.
“I want off this label and nothing to do with these people, but unfortunately it ain’t that easy,” Wayne tweeted. “I am a prisoner and so is my creativity. Again, I am truly sorry and I don’t blame ya if ya fed up with waiting for me and this album.”
The situation escalated when Lil’ Wayne released his Sorry 4 The Wait 2 mixtape in January. Wayne unleashed a series of lyrical takedowns aimed at Williams and Cash Money throughout the free release. One week later, the aforementioned lawsuit was leaked. Since then, Wayne has stayed relatively quiet about the situation, except for a small outburst at a recent show in Jacksonville.
All this turmoil surrounds Lil’ Wayne as he takes the stage tonight at the XO Nightclub. Fans in attendance will have the opportunity to see an artist at perhaps the most pivotal time in his career. This tumultuous situation could inspire the performance of a lifetime or could lead to disappointing affair. No matter what, all eyes will be on Lil’ Wayne.