It looks like Lil Wayne is finally off of Cash Money Records. Yesterday, news broke from The Blast — a somewhat dubious source — that the iconic rapper had been granted a release from the label and settled his $51 million dollar lawsuit with Universal Music Group and his father figure Birdman for an undisclosed amount. The settlement opens the door for Weezy’s long-awaited Carter V album, but it also officially closes the door on an era.
Lil Wayne, Drake, and Nicki Minaj were arguably the biggest trifecta in rap history at one point. Sure, Death Row had the classic picture of Snoop, Dr. Dre, and Tupac, but retrospect reveals that Dre had one foot out the door by the time Tupac had signed with the label in 1995. The three artists never actually made any music together. YMCMB consisted of three platinum-selling artists all jumping on each other’s songs, wanting to see each other win, and respecting the hierarchy with Wayne and Birdman at the top. Unfortunately, Birdman didn’t reciprocate the respect.
The New Orleans native is renowned for his status as a pioneer of southern rap, but he’s also become infamous for not paying his artists, or basically anyone else. He’s been sued for nonpayment by producers Bangladesh, T-Mix, and David Banner. He didn’t pay Pharell and Clipse for their appearance on 2002’s “What Happened To That Boy,” which is the genesis of the feud between Clipse and Wayne that evolved into the Pusha T and Drake beef.
Birdman and Cash Money burst onto the mainstream scene in 1998, but there is a first generation of Cash Money artists like Mr. Ivan, Lil Slim, Lil Ya, and Tec 9 who sued the label over not being paid in the early ‘90s. Birdman settled with many of them and found a new crew of hungry teen artists called the Hot Boyz. One by one, that second wave of artists also began to gripe with Birdman about not being paid their fair share of music profits.
B.G. of the Hot Boyz left Cash Money in 2001, and his groupmate Turk left in 2002. Cash Money soundscaper Mannie Fresh left in 2005, saying “I left Cash Money because of money, scratch, moolah.” Juvenile left in 2001 — and again in 2005, noting in 2012 that “my reason [to leave Cash Money] is the same reason most artists leave their label — money.” Wayne was the last man standing from The Hot Boyz and took it upon himself to will the label to new heights in the mid-2000s. A torrential stream of riveting mixtapes and high-profile features led up The Carter III, an album that sold a million in its first week and officially crowned Wayne as a hip-hop superstar. Birdman rapped on “Always Strapped” that he “bet the house on the young ‘un and we got paid.”
Wayne was probably thinking the same thing about his signing of Drake and Nicki Minaj. As he was ascending the charts, he began to formulate his Young Money crew, a Cash Money subsidiary, with Nicki and Drake as his flagship artists. Jas Prince, son of Houston rap pioneer J Prince, discovered Drake. Jas’ involvement is why J Prince has called Drake “a friend” and used his considerable influence to protect the Toronto rapper, most notably in his recent lyrical dustup with Pusha T. By the time Wayne had released Carter IV in 2011, Drake and Nicki Minaj were stars in their own right, with Drake arguably being the biggest. Wayne wasn’t the jealous type, however, as he was positioned to eat well off of their sales in perpetuity — or so he thought.