Lil Wayne in 2004.
Lil Wayne's 'Tha Carter,' Sixteen Years Later
A look back at the album that marked Lil Wayne's change from washed-up teen star to a superstar in the making
Lil Wayne, Introduced as the runt of the Hot Boys litter during Cash Money Records' takeover during the late 1990s, Weezy quickly put the label on his back as its franchise player following the departure of his group members and labelmates. He initially stumbled into that role with the release of his third solo album, 500 Degreez, in 2002. Fans and critics wondered if he had the ability to continue shoulder the weight of the Cash Money name in the wake of the release of 500 Degreez. However, two years later, Lil Wayne went through a creative rebirth, revamping his style for his 2004 fourth studio album, Tha Carter, which elevated the lauded MC into the conversation of one of the most respected rappers in hip-hop.
Tha Carter, which saw its release on June 29th of 2004. And yet, it’s likely that many of Wayne’s younger fans who listens to Tha Carter V, or who already own the last two volumes in the series, have never listened to Tha Carter. In film, the first installment of a series is rarely eclipsed by its sequels, because you need to see the story from the beginning to understand it. But in music, where there’s no overarching narrative to keep track of, people can start or stop paying attention whenever they want.
But everything that Lil Wayne is today, that he accomplished in the past decade, began with Tha Carter. In 2004, Lil Wayne was on the verge of becoming a 21-year-old has-been. His third album,500 Degreez, hadn’t even pushed half a million units. And his platinum debut,The Block Is Hot, was nearly five years in the rearview, along with the songs that had made him famous like Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up” and B.G.’s “Bling Bling.” Cash Money Records was in a state of upheaval—the Big Tymers were still moving units, but Juve had just released his final album for the label, and their roster was quickly dwindling. For over a decade, the New Orleans rap label had signed nothing but rappers from New Orleans, but were now picking up R&B singers like TQ and Lil Mo in a confused bid for expansion.
Tha Carter turned out to be some of Mannie Fresh’s last work for Cash Money before leaving the label.
—After that, he turned in the solo album The Mind of Mannie Fresh, did three tracks on Birdman’s 2005 album Fast Money, and was completely gone by the time Tha Carter II arrived.