“It’s written all over my face
It’s tattooed, it can’t be erased
One of a kind, I can’t be replaced”
It’s usually easy to trace an artist’s lineage. On the whole, there’s usually a trait or two that’s derivative of someone that came before, or a contemporary that spearheaded the wave. Yet from the moment that he seceded from The Hot Boyz and placed Cash Money’s rickety future on his shoulders as a solo performer, seeking parallels to understand Dwayne Carter quickly became a futile pursuit. A singular entity that implanted his New Orleans drawl into the commercial and critical foreground, Weezy made the vast majority of his contemporaries seem mundane by comparison. In response, he began to identify as something otherworldly.
“I’m different from y’all. So instead of saying, ‘I’m different,’ I have a cool way of saying, ‘I’m a martian’,” he informed XXL in 2008. “I’m so glad I’ve developed into that type of artist. Cause I never could see that shit from the Hot Boys days, to become a n***a that’s just lyrically out there. And make a muthafucka love it.”
Based not only on his own prolific catalogue of mixtapes, albums and even his dishearteningly underexposed TIDAL exclusive album project, the barriers that Wayne levelled have given today’s hungry young artists a set of flexible guidelines to follow if they hope to attain a similar status of greatness.
Approaching the traditional “legacy act” age-range, conventional wisdom would dictate that Wayne wouldn’t be able to sustain his status as an innovative force in music. However, the Young Money mogul has overcame expectations at every interval in his career. Yet with the announcement of his Las Vegas residency and the hit-filled, career retrospective that he’s likely to deliver each night at DRAIS, it naturally leads to speculation over who, if anyone, has the attributes to follow in Weezy’s trailblazing footsteps.
In order to have any hope of entering the same stratosphere as Wayne, there are 3 key characteristics that they must have or be capable of manifesting as the years tick by– 1) work ethic, 2) raw talent that can be converted into star power and, 3) longevity. Although it’s not an entry requirement as such, it’s perhaps telling that each artist that may take up Wayne’s mantle also harbours a deep-seated appreciation for the rapper.
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The most natural recipient of the title and one that he’s been grooming himself for since the embryonic stages of his career, the obvious answer to the question would be Young Thug. Described by Jeffery himself as his “idol for life”, everything from Thugger’s aesthetic to his bewildering flow and Birdman’s eagerness to align with him made it clear that he’s cut from the same cloth as Wayne. Coupled with the steadily mounting eccentricity that’s became one of Thugger’s calling cards, his commitment to transforming mixtapes from throwaway to something more enduring and artful has been evident since the days of I Came From Nothing, and feels indebted to the revolution that Weezy oversaw. Having claimed that he’d “get in the studio with Wayne before Michael Jackson” in 2014, the overt hero-worship may have tapered off as Thugger found his own, often-imitated artistic voice but the connection is alive to this day.
For all that animosity between the two of them has festered ever since he was embroiled in Birdman’s longstanding feud with Tunechi, Wayne saw Thugger’s homage to Tha Carter series with The Barter 6 as something that was made with “total respect.” Cited as an inspiration in his own right for a new breed of rappers, Thug has put in the necessary hours to be considered with his hero and did so while continually pushing the boundaries of his sound. To his credit, when a BBC article that discussed the most influential artists of the decade proclaimed him to be number one, Thugger went out of his way to endorse Wayne’s protests of “me, that’s who” with a simple “facts.”
Boasting his own famed mixtape series with Slime Season and showing no signs of slowing down as we barrel towards his upcoming album Punk, he’s certainly doing his best to emulate the productivity levels of his hero but only time will tell if the cultural relevance can be upheld.
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From his overt rock influences to his garish, individualistic style, there’s certainly grounds to point the finger at Philadelphia’sLil Uzi Vert as a clear descendent of Weezy F. Once derogatorily described by Fat Joe as “a bad version of Lil Wayne,” the Terror Squad don also assessed that Uzi would never been seen among the elite of the game. Well, in the midst of Eternal Atake and its deluxe expansion pack arriving to a frenzied response from the world, Uzi officially entered the ranks of hip-hop’s winner’s circle by repeating Weezy’s feat of having three songs inside the top ten of the Billboard chart simultaneously.
After saluting Weezy on EA’s “No Auto” by retooling the boisterous Tha Carter classic “BM JR,” Uzi inspires a similar level of fanaticism from his fans as Tunechi does. Not to mention, he’s all too acquainted with making his adoring public wait for a project due to a spate of label drama.
Although he’s not known for his efficiency, reports from inside his camp suggest that producers such as Supah Mario sent Uzi upwards of “300 beats” and implies that he’s as eager to churn out content as Wayne. So, if the charismatic artist can establish a run of momentum, there’s no telling where his ceiling lies in comparison to that of Weezy.
On the subject of keeping yourself in fighting condition, two modern artists that have set the wheels in motion for long, illustrious careers by staying active are Lil Baby & Gunna. Both hailing from Atlanta, GA, the two platinum-selling “Close Friends” keep themselves in heavy rotation, churning out features and collaborating with artists across the gamut. Both armed with iconic mixtape themes in the shape of their Drip and Hard series, it’s Lil Baby that’s found himself courting overt comparisons to Wayne while Gunna has discussed how the NOLA sound that brought Weezy to the fore was crucial in igniting his creative drive.
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In response to the parallels that’d been drawn between the two, the man that was drafted in to feature on Funeral’s lead single “I Do It” was humbled by the suggestion that he was in the same league. “I’m definitely honored! That’s the perfect word for it,” Lil Baby explained. “Even if it’s far-fetched to somebody, but just for more than one person to compare me to somebody like him, I’m definitely honoured and it makes me want to go harder.”
For all that they’re riding high, the real litmus test of this pair’s capabilities to follow in Wayne’s footsteps is whether they can produce a succession of projects that have either the impact or versatility of a classic instalment of Tha Carter, Da Drought or Dedication.
Heading away from the Dirty South, the South Florida region has quietly become a hotbed for musical ingenuity. Rising from an outpost to become synonymous with innovation, the rise of Carol City and the surrounding areas recalls the stream of artists that billowed out of Louisiana to make a worldwide commercial impact in the mid-to-late 90’s.
At the nucleus of the area’s rise, Denzel Curry certainly has a lyrical pedigree to rival a young Wayne as well as a refusal to rest on his laurels before returning to the studio. Among labelling Wayne “the goat” in 2016, Zeltron has actually mirrored Weezy’s journey in a lot of ways. After setting out as a member of The Raider Klan, Zel’s shift away from their ranks enabled him to refine his style and in turn, usher in the SoundCloud rap era just as Wayne took 50’s lead and challenged music’s traditional format with his string of iconic, DJ Drama-hosted mixtapes in the mid 2000s.
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As Wayne did before him, Denzel has been vocal about setting the pen aside in favour of the spontaneity that rhyming off the dome provides. Concerned that writing may result in material that sounds “too stiff and rigid,” the organic feel that imbued 2019’s mostly freestyled Zuu record had that same fascinating spark of ingenuity that made post-“10000 Bars” Weezy such a uniquely unpredictable MC to behold.
While Carol City offers a worthy, lyrically gifted candidate to follow Weezy’s lead, there’s a fair amount of speculation over whether the true heir to Wayne’s throne could emanate from closer to home. Hailing from nearby Baton Rouge, Louisiana, NBA Youngboy, much like Wayne in the Hot Boyz days, has been making a name for himself from a prodigious age. Carrying himself with a simmering bravado that invokes the spirit of a young Weezy, the enterprising artist has been plying his trade since charging out of the gate with his first mixtape at the tender age of 15. 2019 aside, Youngboy has averaged a minimum of two tapes a year since 2015 and has displayed a willingness to lend his distinct vocal style to anyone that wishes to enlist his services.
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Much like the young Weezy, the 20-year-old MC is no stranger to a run-in with the law but he’s refused to let it halt his progress. Along the way, he’s been sure to express his pronounced respect for the elder statesman. Stated most explicitly on the swaggering “Diamond Teeth Samurai”, its use of the refrain from “The Block Is Hot” recalls Wayne’s youthful exuberance and desire to prove himself. In line with today’s supply-and-demand dynamic, NBA has flooded the market and, in particular, made YouTube his domain with visual after visual in a way that a younger Tunechi likely would have, had he came up in this era.
In addition to guesting on a litany of tracks with Weezy’s former “daddy,” Birdman has been forthcoming with his praise for Louisiana’s new leading light. “I think NBA YoungBoy gon’ be one of the biggest artists that we done ever seen,” said the rap mogul. “I think he gon’ be real big.” Granted, NBA is still in his relative infancy as an artist. If he can keep chipping away and place an emphasis on creating his own sound, there’s no reason why he can’t become the Bayou state’s next great artist.
While no one can ever usurp Weezy, this eclectic bunch of MCs look to be among the prime candidates to forge his path onwards in 2020.
Who do you think has the potential to be the next Lil Wayne? Sound off in the comments.