Once proclaiming himself the "best rapper alive," Lil Wayne set his own bar, but the man formerly known as Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. may not be too far off the mark.
A New Orleans native and a straight-A student, the young man discovered music as a nice creative outlet. At 11 years old, he took the street name Gangsta D and started on his way. Soon enough, the bosses at Cash Money Records took him under their wing.
After about a year, Mannie Fresh, the label's main producer, partnered Wayne and the 14-year-old B.G. as the B.G.'z duo. Their debut, True Story, was released in 1995. After Wayne shot himself accidentally, their second outing, 1997's Chopper City, became a B.G. solo project.
Upon his recovery, Gangsta D became Lil Wayne. Teaming up with Juvenile, Young Turk, and B.G., the Hot Boys were formed. Their teen hardcore rap emerged in 1997's Get It How U Live!
By the time their sophomore set was ready, Cash Money had landed a distribution deal through Universal. The major label muscle helped push Guerrilla Warfare to the top of Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart in 1999.
In the meantime, Wayne was test piloting his solo career with an appearance on Juvenile's hit "Back That Thing Up.” His first full solo album came in 1999 with Tha Block Is Hot. On the strength of the title track, the collection went double-platinum.
The next year, Wayne followed up with Lights Out. Though it only went gold, he continued to build his following by collaborating with Big Tymers on his smash single "#1 Stunna." His next up at bat, 2002's 500 Degreez, also managed only gold status.
When Cash Money started having financial troubles, Wayne took his third album underground as a mixtape. Da Drought set Wayne on an entirely new trajectory. He began making and releasing mixtapes as promotional tools for his studio records. Tha Carter dropped in 2004 and proved to be a major breakthrough for the rapper.
Thanks to the hit single "Go DJ," Wayne landed a cameo role with Destiny's Child on their crossover cut "Soldier." All the while, Wayne continued flooding the underground with mixtapes including Dedication with DJ Drama and Tha Suffix with DJ Khaled.
With a buzz on the street and on the charts, Wayne issued Tha Carter II in 2005 and sold over a quarter-million units the first week. Two solid tracks, "Fireman" and "Shooter" with Robin Thicke, led the way to platinum status. The album also featured Wayne's new Young Money crew, as well as Curren$y and Nicki Minaj.
In 2006, Wayne partnered with Birdman on Like Father, Like Son. Another huge single emerged in "Stuntin' Like My Daddy." In the underground, Wayne was riding high on his Dedication 2 mix which included the harsh rebuke of President George W. Bush, "Georgia...Bush."
Wayne also kep his collaborative projects flowing with "Gimme That" by Chris Brown, "Make It Rain" by Fat Joe, and "Duffle Bag Boy" by Playaz Circle.
Tha Carter III was slated for a 2007 release, but didn't make it out until 2008. To keep his momentum going and prevent Internet leaks, Wayne offered an official EP titled The Leak.
Before Tha Carter III was even out, its lead cut, "Lollipop," raced to number one helping the full set sell over a million copies in its first week out. An appearance on Saturday Night Live, along with four Grammy awards (including Best Rap Album), made Lil Wayne a household name. That was all capped off by a performance backing Kid Rock on guitar at the 2008 Country Music Awards.
Around that time, Wayne was exploring the world of rock music. His 2009 single, "Prom Queen," was supposed to be a teaser for a full rock album that ended up missing its April release date.
Instead, Wayne and his Young Money boys took to the underground to release another mixtape, Young Money Is the Army, Better Yet the Navy. They followed that with a second single, "Every Girl," and, eventually, a studio album, 2009's We Are Young Money.
The rock album finally came in 2010. Rebirth dropped just as Wayne was being sentenced to nine months in prison for criminal possession of a weapon. Not letting that stop him, Wayne issued the 10-song EP I Am Not a Human Being in September of 2010.