In the summer of 2007, hip-hop heads flooded the clubs around Houston to experience Lil Wayne’s takeover of the rap game firsthand. He wasn’t physically in the building, but his presence was undeniable. The club rocked back and forth, loudly blasting through the most popular cuts from the emergent “rock star” phase of hip-hop — hard guitar samples, Ed Hardy shirts and Nirvana references. Yet time stood still when “Mr. Jones,” a piano-laden Rocky theme originally created for Mike Jones came alive through the speakers. Instead of Jones’ voice however, there was Wayne, sounding energized and hungry.
Most in the club, myself included, could only look around to one another as we rapped out Wayne’s opening verse of “The Sky Is The Limit.” The song was a call to arms and a signifier of a new reality. Lil Wayne had spent three years telling the world he was the best rapper alive. Now he was proving it.
Da Drought 3 arrived a decade ago this week. It served as the unofficial follow-up to Dedication 2, a Lil Wayne and DJ Drama collaboration that further exhibited Wayne’s unreal talent for flipping words and concepts. Da Drought 3 was the next step in Wayne’s all-consuming passion to prove that he was better than anyone in hip-hop. “F*ck a competition, me wanna murder dem,” he boldly stated on the opening track “Intro.” He wasn’t kidding.
At the time, rap had entered a sort of buddy-buddy period, but Wayne still talked big. He wouldn’t get as ridiculous as to threaten to kidnap Beyonce during his Cold War with Jay Z, but he was close. Wayne had been famous since he was 12 years old, when he was just a scrawny pre-teen who couldn’t cuss on Hot Boys records. Now he was on the verge of 25, but still had a chip on his shoulder. To help reach his peak, he put together a formula based around vague references to ‘80s pop culture, straight-line masculinity big-upping his many sexual conquests, clouds of weed smoke, gallons of codeine syrup, and an insanely wide and diverse collection of beats.
The music on Da Drought 3 crisscrossed both time and genre. There were his takes on songs of the moment (Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” Beyonce’s “Upgrade U”), excursions into ‘80s Miami bass (Rodney O and Joe Cooley’s “Everlasting Bass”), the moody New York hijack of Jay Z’s “Dead Presidents II,” Nas’ “If I Rule The World” as well as the Southern fried instrumentals which remained his specialty (“Throw Some Ds”, “Walk It Out”).
The lines were instantly quotable. “I’m so high I could eat a star,” he rapped on “Upgrade U.” “Put a motherf*cker on ice like the Maple Leafs / That’s a hockey team and I ain’t on no hockey team / But I’m a champion, where’s the f*cking Rocky theme? Damn, rest in peace Apollo Creed.” Wayne didn’t chase divinity or some pre-ordained belief that he was the best, he wanted challenges. He dared somebody to come at him but couldn’t find any takers.