Lil Wayne never stopped working; that’s why his longest running mixtape series is called Dedication. Wayne started the series in 2005 with DJ Drama, a thunderously voiced Atlanta DJ, as a way to provide supplementary music between albums for fans. Eventually, the tape series and Wayne’s overall mixtape output surpassed his albums in the minds of many fans. The sixth installment arrived on Christmas day and offers the same approach to rapping that Wayne perfected a decade ago, where he hops on the hottest rap songs of the moment and attempts, through sheer rapping talent, to wrestle them away from the original artist.
Back in the 2000s, Lil Wayne sought out competition within rap to prove he was the greatest, but in 2017, no one plays by those rules. Wayne, who started rapping at 12 and was platinum before he turned 18, always prided himself on an obsession with craft. On Dedication 6, when Wayne raps over 21 Savage’s “Bank Account,” he’s practically playing a different sport compared to 21’s simple, carefully measured flow. Wayne, two decades into his career, remains frantic in his approach, wielding a lyrical dexterity most contemporary rappers lack.
That might be why Wayne sounds best on Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO Tour Lif3” a song that might recall pop punk for some, but in many aesthetic ways is an update on Lil Wayne’s 2008 No. 1 song “Lollipop,” an early auto-tune rap rock collision. Earlier this decade, Wayne’s influence was seen in his co-signs of Drake and Nicki Minaj, but this year of SoundCloud rap shows how Wayne’s reach continues.
Wayne called himself a “Rockstar” well before Post Malone ever could’ve dreamed of a No. 1 hit; Young Thug’s early music cribbed from the distorted croaks of Lil Wayne’s leaked music; and Trippie Redd, who sings with a nasally rocker inflection, owes some credit to Wayne’s critically reviled Rebirth, where he donned a guitar for an entire album—another path followed by Young Thug.
Unfortunately for Wayne, as his musical impact reaches another generation, the business model that built him up is decaying. Endless mixtape releases complemented Wayne’s tireless work ethic and offered a pre-social media fan communication. Except right now, that particular model, thanks in large part to streaming services, is decaying, as artists migrate from mixtape hosting sites like Datpiff and Livemixtape to legitimate platforms that offer financial compensation.
Dedication 6 isn’t available on Apple Music, Spotify, or any legal streaming service—except YouTube, because the legally dubious practice of using other rappers’ beats is incompatible with major label sanctioned services. Instead, Datpiff and Lil Wayne released an app with the new tape and entire back catalog of the Dedication series. An interesting idea, but a single app for a limited catalog of one artist feels a bit needless.
Still, as an old school Lil Wayne fan, I hope younger fans check out that back catalog, because as the comedian Desus Nice tweeted this week: “lil wayne is raps will smith. his good shit balances out his terrible shit.” Dedication 6 certainly isn’t “terrible shit,” and demonstrates how rap continues to play catch-up to the Louisiana rapper.