Andy Kropa/Getty Images
Lil Wayne arrives at New York State Supreme Court for weapons charges on Dec. 15, 2009.
Lil Wayne arrives at New York State Supreme Court for weapons charges on Dec. 15, 2009. Andy Kropa/Getty Images
Today, a New York judge told the rapper Lil Wayne he can't postpone going to jail past March 2nd. He's a star whose influence reaches well beyond the hip-hop world. He's been in a Nike commercial with LeBron James, interviewed by Katie Couric. Even President Obama's mentioned his name—a few times. And he may even represent a new model for rappers who get sent to jail.
It's no secret that you can gain credibility as a rapper by having a pedigree in the pen, which is sort of sad. Lil Wayne was busted for having a gun — a mundane offense in the world of hip-hop. At this point, people have grown accustomed to the idea of a rapper going to jail.
But Wayne is different because, while his music is down and dirty, there's always been instruction to his rapping. There's an element of uplift in all the criming and rhyming. For example, in "The Profit," which he recorded with Fat Joe, he follows a verse of braggadocio with the words, "Stop hating and get your money on."
The fact of the matter is, it's easy to be down in the dumps about being broke, and to hate on other people — to be jealous. But if you really focus on getting your career and your life straight, there isn't a lot to stop you. I don't think a lot of rappers today take the time to tell you to move forward with your life.
Part of what has made Lil Wayne's success so striking is the way it's coincided with the fracturing of the media. While we've all been Twittering and Facebooking, he's been a monster on the mixtape circuit. You don't have to own a single Lil Wayne song to have his voice in your head. He's been on dozens of other artists' recordings and mixtapes. They keep him current in a way that transcends traditional media.
He's had an amazing run-up to lockup. He's been part of the "We Are the World" remix for Haiti. There was his performance at the Grammys less than two weeks ago: He brought down the house with Eminem and Drake, one of the young artists on Wayne's label. People didn't even notice that Kanye West wasn't there; it was that big a hit.
Where going to jail once represented part of a rapper's persona, for Wayne it's part of a business plan. He has a label, Young Money Entertainment, that's going to keep him front and center while he's in jail. They are moving from their headquarters in New Orleans to New York, to be close to him while he's at Rikers Island. He's already recorded an album's worth of material. It's a rock album, so it represents his big venture into crossing over even more.
His label has made every effort to make it seem like he isn't gone while he's actually gone. When he gets out, he may be bigger than he was when he left.