What LIL we know

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In late December 2010, I got a tip that one of the biggest rappers in the world was hosting a last-minute New Year's Eve party at Club Empire in Ybor City. The club's owner said it was a done deal. He put me in touch with a promoter who not only confirmed the news, he handed the phone to an even tighter source.

"I will be in Tampa, bringing in the new year at Empire nightclub," said the familiar, crusty croak on the other end of the line. "We just gonna show up, do our thing. We'll probably hang out for a minute. Then I gotta get back to Atlanta."

Wow, I remember thinking. That was Lil Wayne.

Except ... it wasn't.

The whole thing was a scam — part of a series of scams, actually, in which con artists claiming to be Lil Wayne's handlers would rip off clubs by purporting to book the hip-hop icon for concerts and appearances. The scam got so bad, so prevalent, that Weezy's people had to issue a statement clearing the whole mess up.

Many people, including yours truly, got snookered, but can you blame them? When it comes to Lil Wayne, discerning fact from fiction, man from myth, can be a Herculean task.

Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. has long been in the discussion for the title of Best Rapper Alive, from his days as a New Orleans hip-hop prodigy through his uber-platinum Tha Carter series. He's won four Grammys, sold millions of albums and tens of millions of singles, and launched the careers of Drake and Nicki Minaj through his label, Young Money Entertainment. President Obama has said he's got Weezy on his iPod.

But as a pure pop personality, Lil Wayne has grown impossible to pigeonhole. He's not a larger-than-life mogul like Jay-Z, an antagonistic artiste like Kanye West, a braggadocious behemoth like Rick Ross, a reclusive visionary like Eminem. He's a cipher, a cryptid, a "Martian" — his word, not ours — whose interests range from skateboarding to sportswriting to beginner-level rock guitar. He sucks down codeine-laced cocktails like a bronchitic vampire, yet when he's on, few can match his spry and sprightly command of the mic.

But critics say all of Wayne's outside interests are getting in the way of his once-boundless creativity. His legal troubles and increasingly erratic behavior have made him a target for tabloids like TMZ, which in March reported he was near death following a series of seizures. This year alone, he's launched a feud with the Miami Heat, been fired as a spokesman for Mountain Dew and released his 10th studio album, I Am Not a Human Being II, to some of the worst reviews of his career. His croaky delivery has grown muddier; his rhymes, once so blazingly witty and playful, more profane.

"In a couple of years' span, he became the Lil Wayne, and not just Lil Wayne the artist," said Orlando Davis, program director and morning host at hip-hop station Wild 94.1. "And a lot of the press has been less about his proficiency in metaphor and verse, and more with the extracurricular stuff. That's the gift and the curse of becoming famous."

With Lil Wayne's America's Most Wanted Tour stopping at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Saturday, we decided to take stock of his life and career. We also asked a few Tampa notables to weigh in with their favorite Weezy stories.

Are they all true? Well, who knows? That's just part of the legend of Lil Wayne.

— cridlin@tampabay.com



Brian Schaefer

Founder, Skatepark of Tampa

Over the past few years, Lil Wayne has visited the Skatepark of Tampa about a half dozen times, either for late-night skate sessions or to watch the park's annual Tampa Pro tournament.

The dude just has a passion for skateboarding. They reached out and wanted to come by during one of his shows, and we lined it up. Because his shows are at night, the only time he has to skate is after shows. Even when they're in Miami, they've been here from 2 to 3 in the morning to 6 or 7 in the morning. They come in and do the midnight shift.

When we do it, we keep it on the DL and don't blast it out. Of course, it'd be awesome to go, "Weezy's coming to the Skatepark!" and put it on our social media channels for our own selfish reasons. But it's just one of those things we respect. It's happened in the past with Dave Chappelle and other people that have been in that wanted to skate. They just want to come in through the back, and we just accommodate him where we can, because he's a celebrity, so the last thing we want is that dude walking through the front with 100 people mobbing him.

I could totally lie and say he only comes to our event, but he loves to skate, and while he's on tour, he tries to go to as many parks as he can, because this way, he can just do his thing. He's been throughout a ton of parks throughout the country, and friends of ours have been there to connect with him. We've given him contacts up and down the east coast.

Every time that he comes through, they always give us tickets and access to the show. They're always complimentary, and they always take care of us if we need anything.

I would say if he's healthy, he'll probably be giving us a call to see if he can come skate while he's in town."

Orlando Davis

Program director/morning host, Orlando and the Freakshow, Wild 94.1

We were at the VMAs, and he sat down at the table; we had a really good interview. He was like, "Man, I love Tampa!" And he reminded me — because I had heard this story, but (didn't believe it) until I heard it from his mouth — "I got shot in Tampa!"

I'm like, what?

It was at Club XS. Club XS is not there anymore, but it was formerly right across from the Tampa Convention Center, right before you go over to Harbour Island. We used to be there every Friday night.

He said, "I remember we did a show there. I was giving some girl some attention, and she wanted to get on the bus." Nobody would let her on the bus. They were like, "Nah, we can't hear you!" She was like, "Get Wayne!"

Wayne came over to the bus door but wouldn't open the door, and was acting like he couldn't hear. And apparently this chick brandishes a .22, and shoots it through the door, and it hits him, and they pull off, and they go get him done up. He showed me this scab, and he was like, "This is where I was shot in Tampa."

I had heard something like that, but I didn't think it was true, because there was no fallout, there was no police, there was nothing. She left, he left. But she shot him because she couldn't become a concubine on the bus.

I'm like: Welcome to Tampa.

David Price

Pitcher, Tampa Bay Rays

A huge sports fan, Lil Wayne has over the years shown a lot of love for the Rays' resident ace. In 2008, just a few weeks after Price made his big-league debut, Weezy told ESPN that Price was among his favorite players.

I remember it clear as day. I had only been in the big leagues for two weeks, maybe. And they asked him, "If he was to come out to one of your songs, what song would you tell him to come out to?" He said I'm Me, and that's my No. 1 Lil Wayne song. If I had picked a song to come out to from Lil Wayne, it would definitely be I'm Me. I just thought that was unbelievable. I remember that entire day, just being on cloud nine, sending that article to all my friends and family. I thought that was the coolest thing ever.

The offseason before last year, I just sent a tweet out, talking about somebody making me a walk-out song or something. And one of my buddies, I guess he knows all their managers, and he sent it to them. And by the time I drove to the Trop, did all my work and was driving back, I already had a phone call from Birdman. I couldn't believe it. I got back home and their manager texted me and said, "Hey, Baby and them are about to give you a call if you're free." ... They called and talked to me for a couple of minutes. They knew my stats! They knew everything that was going on! It really blew me away.

I sent all the Cash Money guys All-Star jerseys. They sent me a huge box of YMCMB hats, sweatshirts, clothing. I brought that stuff in here and let the guys take what they wanted, and I've still got a whole bunch of stuff for myself. It was pretty cool.

Anjali "Queen B" McGuire

Afternoon DJ, 95.7 The Beat

I've been following him since he was 15, when he first started with Cash Money. I loved his voice; I thought, he's awfully slick in the lips to be so young and talking like that. So I've always enjoyed him. But when he would call himself a Martian, that about sums it up, because he's weird in a fantastic way.

I used to work in Minneapolis before they brought me here, and we had a show at the Target Center, where the Timberwolves play. A friend that was doing the show, a promoter, invited me to come and sit on the stage. Literally right before he went onstage, he passed me, and he just turned around and said, "Hey, sexy." I looked and I was like, "Me?!" We just caught eyes, he gave me a "Hey, sexy," and I was like, Oh my god ... he spoke to me!

America's Most Wanted Tour

Lil Wayne, T.I., Tyga, G-Eazy and Hit-Boy will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. Tickets are $25-$89.75 at livenation.com. (813) 740-2446. Following the show, T.I. is slated to appear at an after-party at Club Skye, 1509 E Eighth Ave., Ybor City. Tickets are $25-$100; ladies free until 11 p.m. For info see ticlubskyejuly13.eventbrite.com.

What LIL we know 07/10/13 [Last modified: Thursday, July 11, 2013 6:27pm]

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