Last December, Lil Wayne hit send on a series of tweets that rocked the music world. "I am a prisoner and so is my creativity," he wrote, blaming Cash Money Records and its cofounder, Bryan "Birdman" Williams, for refusing to release his long-delayed album Tha Carter V. "I want off this label and nothing to do with these people, but unfortunately it ain't that easy."
Eight weeks later, the 32-year-old rapper dropped another bombshell: In a 21-page document filed with a federal court in New York on January 28th, Wayne sued Cash Money for $51 million, citing a wide range of alleged financial misdeeds. Among other things, the lawsuit claimed that Cash Money withheld key accounting documents from Wayne, and that the label owes him $8 million for Tha Carter V under a 2012 deal that guaranteed a staggering $10 million advance per album. (Cash Money reps did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)
Lil Wayne has been one of Cash Money's flagship stars since he signed with the label at age 12, and for years he saw Williams as a father figure, frequently dubbing himself "Birdman Jr." on record. But that relationship has broken down, perhaps irreparably. Wayne tells Rolling Stone that he and Birdman are no longer on speaking terms. "I have no words," he says. "I'm super-numb to it, to tell you the truth."
It's 2 p.m. Miami time when Rolling Stone reaches the rapper by phone last week. But Wayne is just waking up and is understandably prickly about discussing the lawsuit. "That's a legal matter, homeboy," he says. As for the "I am a prisoner" tweet from December, he tries to play it off with a sex joke at first: "I love being a prisoner in some pussy. That's what I meant." After we talk some more, he admits that the legal wrangling has been weighing on his mind. "I'm human," he says. "But it's nothing that a good blunt can't cure."
Wayne says that Tha Carter V, which he finished recording some time ago, is on ice for now. "It's super-done," he says. "Cake baked, icing on top, name on top, candles lit. I would have released it yesterday if I could. But it's a dead subject right now. It's a jewel in the safe. It's that stash-house money."
In the meantime, he's been putting in 12-hour studio shifts on an all-new project: the cleverly titled The Free Weezy Album, which he plans to release for free in March. "I'm working on it every day, man," he says. "I guarantee it's going to be something dope. If you don't want a musician being creative, don't get The Free Weezy Album."
The album will follow another unconventional release from Wayne's circle: If You're Reading This It's Too Late, by his protégé Drake, which went up for sale online in mid-February with no advance warning. The project, which includes some apparent lyrical shots at Cash Money, sold nearly 500,000 copies in its first four days and debuted on the Billboard 200 at Number One.
"Right now, anybody could put out a new song on the Internet and it could become the hottest thing ever," Wayne says. "When I was starting, you couldn’t do that type of shit. But that's wonderful – the game is wide open, and my job is just to stay vital."
Wayne keeps up with younger artists – "I like Rae Sremmurd and Migos," he says – but after nearly 20 years in the business, he feels that his age is starting to show. "Sometimes I don't know what the hell they're talking about on Instagram," he says with a laugh. When that happens, he turns to his 16-year-old daughter, Reginae: "I had to call her, like, 'What the hell is "on fleek"?'"
Last year, Wayne hinted that he might be ready to retire from music, but he says he's got other ideas now. "I've thought about it," he says. "But for a person like me that bleeds, eats, sleeps and shits music, it's hard to do." He hopes to spend much of 2015 on tour, and he'd like to do some recording overseas while he's at it. "When I go home, I want my actual house to be a vacation," he says. "And I might give y'all three new kids from four different women. You know how I do it."