More than any other pop star of the 2000s, Lil Wayne thrived in the chaos left behind by a rapidly changing music industry. When streaming was still a dream and physical CD sales were cratering, the New Orleans rapper consumed and re-contextualized everything from the Beatles to Beyoncé. It was an exciting time like no other, but as a result of this approach, many of his best bars, punchlines, and melodies are clearance nightmares at best and completely lost to time at worse. Where most artists’ discographies can be easily found on DSPs like Spotify and Apple Music, Wayne’s defining moments are scattered across mixtape sites like Datpiff or random, fan-uploaded YouTube videos. So when Lil Wayne’s 2009 tape No Ceilings arrived to major streaming services (albeit in truncated form), 11 years after its initial release, it came as a welcome surprise.
In retrospect, “YM Wasted” — the tape’s best moment — feels like a signal of the end that was approaching for Wayne’s peak era. Over the beat to Gucci Mane and Plies’ “Wasted,” Wayne performs like a man possessed. On the horizon was a looming jail term, and across No Ceilings, there’s the knowing tension of a run cut short. For over four minutes, Wayne vomits up every defining trait he honed across his prolific mixtape streak in the previous few years. The song begins with his characteristic lighter flick; he mispronounces a word to fit his rhyme scheme (“Geronimo” gets twisted into “Ja-ran-a-moh”), and by the song’s end he manages to drop a reference to 2008’s Step Brothers and the popular History Channel show Ice Road Truckers. At his most unhinged, Wayne raps, “Your flow never wet, like Grandma pussy” and immediately follows it up with “I’m always good, like Grandma cookies.”
After No Ceilings, Wayne’s youthful edge started to erode. By the time he was released from jail in late 2010 and regained his commercial footing on 2011’s Tha Carter IV, his voice’s cartoon elasticity was dissipating. His proteges, Drake and Nicki Minaj, were now pushing the experimental boundaries of hip-hop, as Wayne’s own style began to atrophy. One man only has so many reinventions in him. Miraculously, “Wasted” still sounds like a man’s prime a decade later.
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