Death of a Dynasty: The Demise of Cash Money Records and Lil Wayne’s Fight for Freedom
"Cash Money Records, where dreams come true." That statement was once confidently stated by rap legend Lil Wayne during his much-noted rise to prominence during the late 2000s. With more than a decade under his belt at the time and as the franchise player for arguably the preeminent brand of southern rap, Cash Money Records, Weezy was the man of the moment and on a rampage to prove his claim as "the best rapper alive."
All the while, Bryan Williams -- known to the rap world as Baby or Birdman -- was there for the entire ride, coaching up his young protege and remaining the father figure that he had become following the death of Wayne's stepfather, Rabbit.
Along the way, Baby showed Wayne what the true meaning of family was and the value of loyalty, instilling a bond so strong that when label mates Juvenile, Mannie Fresh and B.G. defected from Cash Money over alleged financial misappropriation, Weezy didn't even bat an eye, instead putting the CMB brand on his back and transitioning from the runt of the clique to the star player seemingly overnight.
Releasing mixtapes, freestyles, random cuts and guest verses, Wayne was deemed the most prolific rapper in the game. After scooping up Drake and Nicki Minaj via his Young Money imprint, the Cash Money empire had appeared to have weathered the tumultuous storm and was set to dominate for at least another decade or two -- after all, it wasn't like Baby or Wayne would have it any other way.
But the hip-hop world got a rude awakening on Dec. 4, 2014, when Lil Wayne took to Twitter and let off a string of scathing tweets directed towards Birdman and Cash Money as a whole. "I want off this label and nothing to do with these people but unfortunately it ain't that easy," he wrote. Apparently, Wayne was unhappy with the label's handling of his impending album, 'Tha Carter V,' and wanted a release from his contract due to creative differences.
The news was a shock to most, as Baby and Wayne were thought to be tighter than Siskel and Ebert, an iconic duo that would only be separated by death. The plot only thickened weeks later when rumors surrounded a lawsuit Lil Wayne was set to file against Birdman and Cash Money for $8 million. Last month, he officially filed the suit for a whopping $51 million against his estranged musical family. And taking a look at Birdman's shaky-at-best history of paying people for their services and a regular defendant in a lawsuit, you would be a fool to have thought for one second that he would be gentlemanly about this.
The interesting part of this is Young Money cash cows Drake and Nicki Minaj. Having discovered the two artists and taken their careers to astronomical heights, he has made it clear that he intends on bringing his proteges along with him if he does part ways with Cash Money. But with the various contract stipulations and hands in the pot, the litigation would be hell for all parties involved and possibly stall the careers of Drizzy and Minaj for the foreseeable future, let alone Lil Wayne.
Plenty of cards have yet to be put on the table to even fathom the contractual red tape surrounding the situation. Movies like this tend to play out ugly and could take years for the script to be finalized, with regard for the fans left on the cutting room floor. Sure, there are ways to find loopholes in the system and get the music to the people directly, but who wants to do that when you're chasing the immortality of rap giants whose own legacies hinge on actual albums when it's all said and done. Definitely not Weezy, Nicki or Drake.
Speaking of legacy, Wayne's is on the verge of taking a hit. If you've been reading the writing on the wall for the past few years, you're aware that there are whispers that the once unstoppable rapper is slowly devolving into a shell of his former self. Post 'Tha Carter III,' Wayne hasn't exactly set the world on fire and has been hit and miss at best with his material. You could attribute that to his stint in prison, lack of drugs or the drugs themselves turning him into a rapping Ozzie Osbourne, but whatever it is, Wayne hasn't sounded like the best rapper alive in nearly half a decade.
Many fans -- just check Twitter -- are looking to 'Tha Carter V' as a return to greatness for Tunechi and a lot is riding on the album being deemed a success, which may add to Weezy's subtle sense of urgency in the past year regarding its release. That pressure, added with the emerging presence of Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan -- both have aligned themselves with Birdman and all parties using the partnership to their benefit with fruitful results -- may have drove Weezy over the edge, inspiring his rant and release from Cash Money to make room for Rich Gang's bromance.
Lil Wayne's reason for finally seeing the light and deciding to distance himself from Birdman doesn't really matter at this point; we're just glad that he finally came to his senses and decided to man up, regardless of the consequences. Birdman may be an intriguing character with a magnetic presence and a penchant for enthralling slick-talk, but he's not necessarily the kind of guy that I'd want next to the rappers I support.
He's notorious for not paying the very artists that help afford him his lavish lifestyle. Artists, like Lil Wayne, have dedicated years of their life, let alone career, to the CMB cause. Just look at Mannie Fresh, who learned a valuable lesson in getting stiffed when coming up under the Cash Money regime. Diddy may be regarded as rap's resident paper gangster, but Birdman surely takes the cake -- he's even been rumored to take advantage of his artist's drug addictions and use them to his benefit. If those accounts are true, a guy as shady as that doesn't deserve the admiration he gets when he's nothing more than a rap industry slumlord, treating the tenants of his musical empire with no respect or regard for their living situation.
It's likely that a similar fate dealt to those accusing the Cash Money family of doing them wrong will eventually be dealt to newcomers -- Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan or anyone else for that matter if they allow it. Think about it. Wayne's resurgence was the main draw that earned the label its massive distribution deal when Universal Records decided to re-up in the aughts. He was loyal enough to pass up a chance to align himself with Jay Z, his lyrical hero and arguably the most powerful cosign and ally that mosts artists would love to have on their team.
If Birdman can reportedly jerk someone around like Wayne that stuck by him through thick and thin and held his company down, what will he do to the next unsuspecting artist? That being said, we're pretty sure that Birdman isn't worried about reputation as he is about raking in the cash. He'll likely be doing his signature handrub while Wayne goes through the daunting task of escaping the clutches of a recording contract with the clothes left on his back -- and hopefully that $51 million -- let alone prized money-makers such as Drake and Nicki Minaj.
But due to the underwhelming reception of 'Sorry For the Wait 2,' it appears Weezy is beginning to lose his midas touch and has left much to be desired when it comes to his recent music. This legal and personal rift could serve as the catalyst that lights an artistic fire in Tunechi, resulting in a return to form and save him from falling into the role of "the guy who had a spark when he started, but now, is just garbage."
He could instead be remembered in the mold of a rap-slinging John Elway, who went out on top and on the biggest stage. Whatever the case, without Lil Wayne in the fold, the house that he helped build and made his own reclamation project will be nothing but another southern-based record label and will no longer represent the love, honor, respect and loyalty that the name signified during the crew's apex.
Cash Money was once an army, better yet, a navy. These days, due to such public turmoil between Wayne and Birdman, it's more reminiscent of a sinking ship that would put the Titanic to shame.
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