Lil Wayne vs. Young Thug: A Case for the Rising Rapper (Op-Ed)

Lil Wayne and Young Thug
Courtesy Photo; Getty Images

The parallel rise of Young Thug and Lil Wayne's careers has quickly become one of the most talked-about subjects in music, even though it's been trending this way for a while. Before Young Thug announced that he'd be releasing his debut project Carter VI, he was a known stan for the "Best Rapper Alive." In 2014, he told Complex that he'd rather work with Lil Wayne over Michael Jackson. He's littered references to his rabid love of Wayne in his music and interviews since at least 2011.

Young Thug's allegiance to Lil Wayne has been captured in old interviews such as the one above from 2011 where the wide-eyed and shy rapper talked about wanting to end up on Wayne's label, Young Money. Thug's original salvo of music from his I Came From Nothing mixtapes are audio tributes to the Cash Money rapper, using his dangling punchline style and nonsensical garbling that doubles as singing. Thug's "Eat You Alive" is a direct callback to Wayne's unreleased song of the same name, and featured the younger rapper still finding himself musically. While many thought that Thug's decision to take on the mantle of Tha Carter is a subtle jab, it's more the natural progression of a fan who is firmly in the front seat of the conversation. He's keeping Wayne's legacy alive by emulating his blueprint to the top and not his music.

Lil Wayne Sues Cash Money For $51 Million: Report

It is only now that their wildly similar paths to fame have come to a head. As much as he's done for the rap game, Lil Wayne's career has been trending downward after twenty years of relevance. His new music has been met with apathy and a largely negative response. Most recently, his messy breakup with his father figure Birdman has left him at odds with Cash Money Records, the label that Wayne helped keep afloat in the early 2000s. Fans have been left confused as a multi-million dollar lawsuit threatens to break the Young Money/Cash Money union for good. But as Wayne's relationship deteriorated with Birdman, Young Thug became the adopted son that Birdman once had in Wayne.

Rising from the near-endless factory of artists left behind from Gucci Mane's 1017 Bricksquad imprint, Young Thug was always meant to be more than a one-off mixtape artist. He has a look and an eccentric lifestyle that has bewildered some and endeared others. He is a bankable street rapper in the same vein as Lil Wayne, a formula that Birdman hasn't been able to find even in light of mega-stars like Drake and Nicki Minaj. He's proven that he can cross over: "Lifestyle" and his guest stint on T.I.'s "About The Money" were two of his biggest hits last year. Whether people think he's gay or just trolling, Young Thug has developed himself into a full artist -- using Lil Wayne as a blueprint. He has evolved from the 2007 Wayne style (which artists like Future have incorporated), mixing Auto-Tune-assisted crooning with his confounding delivery that many struggle for weeks to decipher. Young Thug is using his weirdness to trailblaze a new era in music -- just like Lil Wayne did.

The perceived "disrespect" to Lil Wayne has fans and detractors up in arms. Even Wayne's daughter Reginae Carter went on Twitter to express her disapproval. When it was announced by Young Thug and his label 300 Entertainment that his new mixtape would indeed be called Carter VI, it looked history had been revised. Lil Wayne has done this before: his third album titled 500 Degreez was "inspired" by former Cash Money rapper Juvenile. The idea of making an album hotter than the biggest artist of Cash Money Records at that point was Wayne making a statement. "All the lames, we done lost that, all we got is Weezy, Weezy and Lil Weezy to fall back," Wayne said on the title track to the album, firmly establishing himself as the star. He was more like Young Thug is now in 2002 than people want to admit.


Lil Wayne wants you to know... pic.twitter.com/jhWbE1N43N

— Kar?n Ci?il (@KarenCivil) April 10, 2015


Known only for being in the shadow of Juvenile at that time, all Wayne wanted was a chance to show that he could carry the ship. Now in 2015, Young Thug is using the prestige of Tha Carter name to pay homage, and show that he's the next guy. The most confusing and hypocritical part of the commentary behind this is the people who openly hate Wayne suggesting that he's being wronged in some way. In a recent video taken at one of his release parties for Sorry 4 The Wait 2, Wayne has seemingly thrown down the gauntlet, telling fans to "stop listening to music from n----s who pose naked on their mother-fucking album covers," a reference to Thug's provocative Carter VI mixtape cover. He and Thug have been seen in the studio together and even released the extremely underrated "Take Kare" collaborative single last year before the Cash Money ship came apart, but it seems like the battle lines are now being drawn. Ignoring the fact that he also used controversial methods to bring attention to himself (remember the leopard jeggings?), Wayne has shunned his biggest fan on a national stage.

Lil Wayne Insists 'Tha Carter V' Will Be the Final 'Carter' Album

The elephant in the room here is the fact that Carter VI will release next week, and Lil Wayne's Tha Carter V currently has no release date. It'd be ridiculous to say that this was planned -- Thug has been claiming his intentions to release his album even though in an interview with MTV he said he didn’t know if Wayne would even release Tha Carter VI himself. Wayne has also gone on record saying that the fifth entry would be his last solo album. A lot of the drama surrounding Wayne and Birdman surfaced just a few short months ago, culminating in a $51 million lawsuit surrounding Tha Carter V and unpaid royalties from Young Money artists. Sure, the timing is very interesting but Young Thug was going to do this anyway. The narrative of him having secret Legion of Doom-esque meetings with Birdman to eradicate Lil Wayne seems ridiculous. The two rappers aren't even signed to the same label, so it's really a case of Thug (finally) being free of his label issues and Wayne unfortunately becoming a prisoner to his own label.

The relationship between Young Thug and Lil Wayne is starting to become rocky, and will likely come to a head in the coming weeks, further driving a wedge between fans of both artists. The real winner here is Birdman, though. He's once again found a suitable wave to connect to, and while Thug isn't officially signed to Cash Money (which could change), it wouldn't be surprising if he had his hands in Thug's pocket in some way. He's taken a vested interest in seeing Thug become the best he can be, and past history has shown that Birdman doesn't bet on something that doesn't have serious potential. 

The reveal of Carter VI's cover sees Young Thug mostly naked and standing alone. The spotlight is on him, his music, his sexuality and where he can go from here. His story is only beginning, much like it was when his "idol" had to hold down the fort for Cash Money over a decade ago.