When people discuss which rapper is truly the GOAT, Lil’ Wayne is often left off the list. The conversation normally revolves around older rappers like Tupac, Biggie and Nas, or sometimes even more modern rappers, like Kanye or Kendrick Lamar. People tend to forget that Lil’ Wayne is a godfather of modern rap and one of the most lyrically skilled rappers to ever touch the mic.
His omission is likely because Wayne has undeniably released the occasional bad album, and the sad truth that his best music is often overlooked for his more popular tracks. Yet these reasons shouldn’t disqualify Wayne in the GOAT discussion.
Any rapper who releases 18 mixtapes, 12 studio albums and numerous collaborations is guaranteed to have a few duds. Every other rapper considered The Greatest has either also released bad projects or has had too short a career to properly judge. We should not judge an artist on their worst projects, but on their best. Wayne’s best is some of the most incredible hip-hop music ever made.
Wayne’s greatest music comes from the four-year span between 2004’s Tha Carter and 2008’s Tha Carter III, during which he released four albums, an EP, eight mixtapes and appeared as a guest feature on more than 200 tracks.
Stunningly, almost all of these releases are quality. If this claim seems bold, I urge you to listen to Tha Carter II or Da Drought 3, or, if you don’t have time for a whole project, just listen to “Tha Mobb” and “Live From 504.” He murders every beat and makes spitting lyrical tongue twisters sound easy.
While many of Wayne’s songs focus on money, fame, women and being the best rapper ever, he is not limited to these motifs. On “Georgia Bush,” Wayne lambasts the president for his inaction during Hurricane Katrina. On “I Feel Like Dying,” he reflects on his self-destructive relationship with drug use. On “Something you Forgot,” Wayne laments about the mistakes he made in a relationship.
Yet even when Lil Wayne raps about classic themes, he still puts a unique spin on them. On “Dr. Carter,” Wayne writes himself as a doctor that treats and eventually saves a patient that represents rap music—an allegory for Wayne’s contributions to the genre.
Wayne’s lyrical prowess is made even more impressive when you learn that Wayne does not write lyrics down; he simply gets in the booth and raps. The last song Wayne wrote lyrics down for was “10,000 bars,” a blistering 30-minute rap written in 2002.
Not only are these releases good, they’re also influential. Wayne’s influence can be felt everywhere in modern hip-hop. For example, alongside T-Pain, Wayne pioneered the use of auto-tune in rap. He also directly influenced hip-hop’s relationship with drugs with the songs “I Feel Like Dying” and “Me and My Drank,” and Wayne’s album Rebirth heavily contributed to the rise of rock rap.
Wayne’s influence is not only defined by abstract effects on entire subgenres but can also be seen directly in modern rappers. Many of hip-hop’s biggest names take inspiration from Wayne himself. For example, Wayne literally mentored the popular artist Drake.
Artist Kendrick Lamar released a mixtape in which he spits nearly the entirety of Tha Carter III and Young Thug paid direct homage to Lil’ Wayne with his album Barter 6. 2 Chainz also owes part of his stardom to a killer Wayne feature on his song “Duffle Bag Boy.” The list could easily continue, as there are so many rappers that have drawn inspiration from Wayne’s legendary run.
Wayne’s impressive lyrical skill combined with his massive influence on modern rap easily make him the GOAT. And if you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe Kendrick Lamar, who said in an interview with the Breakfast Club radio show that “Lil Wayne is a legend… what he has done for the hip-hop culture is phenomenal.”