A hot Friday evening in San Antonio, and it feels like every car on the road is blasting Lil Wayne, his gravel pit of a voice croaking about how to love and live and how life is a bitch and death is her sister. But Wayne sure isn’t bitching about life or worrying about death tonight. Tha Carter IV, his first studio album since he finished an eight-month jail stint for weapons possession, has sold a million copies, and it’s only been out for a week. These Texas shows—San Antonio, then Dallas and Houston—mark the end of his I Am Still Music tour, and you get the feeling it’s been a long summer. Actually, a long life. At only 29 years of age, Dwayne Michael Carter has already spent nearly two decades performing the lyrical, low-down reptilian strangeness that is his act. There have been a couple of bumps—2010’s mostly reviled Rebirth, the jail thing—but it’s hard to think of any man, in any line of work, who has so emphatically done whatever the fuck he wants and made it work so well.
For the past ten hours, I’ve been orbiting the world of Wayne, a bizarre realm of drivers, managers, assistants, skater buddies in knee socks, fellow rappers, and a terrifying horde of girls dressed like hookers. Amid all the chaos, Weezy himself is nowhere to be seen. Finally, at 1 a.m. at the Westin, where the hallways are thick with the smell of weed, I find Wayne relaxing in sweatpants in his penthouse suite. As usual, he’s watching ESPN. In deference to me (I think), he mutes the sound.
GQ: Congratulations on selling a million records this week. Are you surprised at all?
Lil Wayne: Yeah. Hell yeah, I’m surprised.
GQ: I was sure you were going to be like, “Absolutely not.”
Lil Wayne: No. I was very surprised. I did not think I was gonna do that. I mean, I already did that—I sold a million copies the first week [of Tha Carter III]. I never imagined it would happen again. I think we’d be some greedy motherfuckers to expect it to happen again, and I’m still shocked that it did.
GQ: I hear you plan to retire when you turn 35?
Lil Wayne: Basically, I have been doing this for eighteen years. That’s reason number one. I have accomplished all that I have set out to accomplish and more. Also, I have a label, and I’ve only put out two artists [Drake and Nicki Minaj]. I have a lot more work to do, and it’d be selfish to not focus on being the boss and focus on their projects.
But the main reason is my kids, my children. Now, if I thought I’d be selfish to my artists, imagine what I think I would be doing to my kids. I have enough money that they don’t have to ever do anything—which, they will do everything, ’cause they ain’t getting shit. [cackles wildly] Six [more] years, I can do this Lil Wayne thing, and my boys will be about 7 and 8 years old. And man, it’s all about them then. You know, whatever they’re doing. Sports. Whatever they’re into. That’s where I am. I’m at every game. I’m the dad with the hat on. The jersey. That’s me.
GQ: You’ll still be you without music?
Lil Wayne: I feel like I’ll be a new me, and how good is that? To actually be opening a brand-new door of life at 35? That’d be awesome. Totally awesome. I’m looking forward to it.
GQ: Did your time in jail slow you down or mellow you out a bit?
Lil Wayne: I don’t think life is about a pace, living slow or fast. I think you just live, y’know what I mean? You’re either living or you’re dead. So it just helped me on my way, helped me with life. Cleared me up, cleaned me up, opened my eyes to things. I definitely thank God for that moment instead of looking at it as a problem or a bad situation. I needed it.
GQ: You’re sober now? No more syrup?
Lil Wayne: I’m good. I ain’t tripping. I’m used to it now. But I was never on heroin or cocaine or Ecstasy or nothing like that. I drank syrup and smoked a lotta weed. I wish I could be back on it. That’s how it fucking feels. [cracking himself up] “How does it feel to be sober?” I’ll be like, “It feels fucked-up.” What you want me to say? “It feels great”? No. I was on something that the doctor prescribed. I was ill, and that was helping me.
GQ: So you aren’t going back on it?
Lil Wayne: I cannot wait until I get off probation, sweetheart. Not for syrup. No, not for syrup. I stopped syrup May 9 of 2009. But nobody knew. Because I still rapped about it. Because I respect the culture of where it came from. I still rep that shit.
GQ: What’s up with all the skateboarding?
Lil Wayne: You know, I don’t know. Everybody asks me that question, like, “What made you start skating?” Yeah, well, um…I don’t know. I’m still like a kid, because unfortunately my childhood was raped away from me because I became a star, a rapper, or whatever you want to call it, and you can’t be a kid and a rapper at the same time. So I watch television and I get real amped. Like, people watch commercials, and they’re like, “Who’s gonna buy that?” I’m the person they make the commercials for. I watch them, and I’m like, “Oh God, that’s awesome.” So I was just watching TV, and I was like, “Yeah. I want to do that!” And I called a guy and I said, “I want a ramp on my roof.” I have a pretty big roof at home. So I put a ramp on the roof about five months ago, and man, I’ve been skating ever since.
GQ: Five months ago was the first time you got on a board?
Lil Wayne: First time I got on a board and was serious, yes. You know, of course, as a kid I have — you know, I had never owned my own skateboard. As a kid in the hood, people in the hood had boards.
I got on a board and saw what it does. But as far as taking it serious, nah, this is the first time. Shit, I had to be serious. I was on a ramp. I didn’t want to go out there and be busting my ass. But in order to stop busting my ass, I had to get smart and control everything.
GQ: It’s pretty hard, skating.
Lil Wayne: It’s pretty difficult. But when you’re having fun, and when you’re doing anything and having fun with it, it almost takes the complication out of it. It takes the difficult out of it. That’s what it is with my music. I have so much fun with it that I still do it every day, and people will be like, “What drives you? What makes him just…?” He’s not working. He’s having fun. So, why not have fun every day? I’m not tired of having fun yet, so that’s what it is. It is hard, but it is fun.
GQ: Where did you hurt yourself when you fell?
Lil Wayne: Right over the scar. [points to head]. It’s okay. It’s pretty fine. Nine stitches.
GQ: That’s a bad place to get hit, I would guess.
Lil Wayne: It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t. It was real quick. Happened, and I was stitched up and went about my way. I told everybody. Everybody was like, “Oh, my God. You got nine stitches. You busted your head?” I was like, honestly, I fell so much harder in other places. Like, I wish you were there to see me really bust it. I busted my ass before, like, literally, this is nothing. These stitches are like—this is the first time I have seen blood shed, but I’ve fallen much harder than that.
GQ: Growing up, what did you think of skaters? Did you think skating was rad?
Lil Wayne: No. Not one idea at all. Didn’t know why that thing was created. You know. I didn’t know. I thought it was something for the parents who didn’t want to buy their kid a bike. “Give ’em a skateboard.” Thought that’s what it was. I wish there had been a skate culture, because I would be so much better. Now I’m into it. And I know I would have been interested in it then, just as interested as I am now, because I love it. I don’t know why, but I love it. I don’t like it a lot. I love it. So, I wish it was, man. I’m kinda mad that I had to wait 28 years to jump on a skateboard.
GQ: Is that culture something you’re getting into now?
Lil Wayne: I would say yeah. To be serious about it, you have to respect everything about it. And to respect everything about it, you have to respect the culture. And to respect the culture, you have to know the culture. So, I’ve set out to do, and am doing, and I did and done those things.
I’ve researched, and I know everything about the culture. I know everything about who’s who, what’s what, who won what, and who’s better than who, and who skates for what team, and I’m into it. I’m into it. And you know what, they respect me a whole lot. Everywhere we go, every city or state we go, we have a skate park booked for after the show. I go there, I skate till about sun-up, and seven times outta ten, there’s usually a pro there. Or they’re usually connected to some pro or on some pro team. And, you know, we take pictures, we skate, we session together. They respect me so much just musically, without skating, period. A guy told me the other day, he was like, “You know what’s so crazy is like, a lot of artists say they skate, or a lotta artists say they pick a skateboard. But, you know, for the best to do it, it makes you a person that skates, it refreshes you, to remember why you picked up a skateboard.”
And there’s also been people who told me, “To see you skate and to see you serious and having so much fun, it’s like, I’ve seen you on the Internet, and every time I see you on a clip, you’re smiling. You’re having the time of your life. Even when you fall. It makes us, the people that really skate, say, ‘Stop taking it so serious and enjoy what you’re doing, because there’s people that already got the world in their hands and is picking up this skateboard and enjoying it.'”
So you already know what to do with a skateboard, why don’t you enjoy it extra hard for them? And you know every time when I meet somebody that says that I feel good as a person for what I’m doing and they feel good—I mean, it feels good when they tell me that, you know. “You enlighten me on skateboarding, and I’ve been skating for 30 years, and to see you pick up a skateboard and be so happy and so motivated and dedicated to it, it makes me want to do it that much more.” And I’m glad I could do that.
GQ: Do you get that from other young rappers, kids just starting out?
Lil Wayne: Of course I get that. Especially when I was locked up. Like, that was basically all the letters. “You’re the reason why I started rapping” and “You’re the reason why I started singing” or “You’re the reason why I don’t give up” or “I never gave up!” or you know, and, it’s just, as people say, there’s something about my confidence. There’s something that [says], this is my thing and I’m gonna do it how I wanna do it, and the hell what you think.
And that draws them, especially when you mean it and you prove it and you do it, and you be successful. And I’ve done that. It’s strong. It’s strong when you stand for that and you make progress on that situation, meaning you go to jail, you get knocked down, and you come right out of jail, and you put out the number-one album, and you sell a million records in one weekend. And you know, you talk to Katie Couric and you tell Katie Couric, “I’m a gangsta.” You know? And you’re looking her in the eye, and you’re saying, “I am a gangster, Miss”—you know?
And when you do those things, you show people that come from nothing, that, man—people that come from everything—you just show them that “I can be.” You know. “And I can do.” Because that kid, he isn’t perfect. You know? But he is. He’s doing what he does. And, I mean, that’s what it is. That’s what’s the glory of it.
GQ: You have 31 million fans on Facebook. That’s a lot of power.
Lil Wayne: I was told one time—crazy story—I was condo shopping one day. There was a guy doing the condo shopping, and we come downstairs. We walked through the lobby. And there’s people in the lobby, there’s security, or whatever. There’s a female with a baby stroller. We walked to another condo building. It’s like, a block away. We looked at two spots in there. Now mind you, that probably took every bit of an hour and a half. And as we’re walking back, he’s like, “Um, y’know, I wanted to tell you that your power that you have over kids is crazy.” And I was like, “Excuse me?” Because he was appropriate and businesslike the whole time. I didn’t even think he knew who I was. I thought he thought I was just some guy looking for a condo. He’s like, “Your music, man. I believe if you had 3,500 people on the top of a building and you told them to jump,” he said, “I believe that 3,000 of them would jump before you.” He said, “I didn’t say I believe all of them were going to jump, but I believe 3,000 of ’em would jump before you.” He said, “Then the other five [hundred] would jump after.” And he was like, “And you know what’s crazy? My daughter would be one of those 3500 people.” He’s like, “If you don’t mind, would you please say hi to her?” I was like, “Yeah. I don’t mind.” He’s like, “Okay, well, when we get back to the building, she’s the girl with the baby stroller.” I’m like, “She been sitting there for two hours?” “Yeah. She just wanted to say hi. You mean that much to her.” He was like, “And as a father, to look at your daughter and see that another human being means that much more to her than I actually do as her father, that is something.” So he was like, “I want to tell you, young man: You have power, and I just want you to know of the power you have, and take heed to that.”
GQ: What are you going to do with that power?
Lil Wayne: I do exactly what I should. I be me. And that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. You’re not supposed to say, “Okay. Now I got the power. Let me do things this way.” No. Because obviously I got the power, doing what I do, and I ain’t gonna stop doing what I do. I’m gonna be exactly who I am. So, if that dies one day, so be it.
GQ: That’s pretty wise. Do you have some inner guidance that tells you that?
Lil Wayne: Yeah. My momma. My mom keeps me grounded, keeps me humble, and that’s just the person I am, honestly. Thank God. I was just born to be who I am. I am very humble, and I am very gracious and very grateful for everything that happens to me and about me and around me. So with that said, I wouldn’t be any other way anyways. So, whether this was music, sports, technician, electrician, whatever. This is me.
GQ: Your relationship with your biological father seems complicated.
Lil Wayne: He don’t give a shit about me. And I don’t give a shit about him. I know his friends be like, “Damn, nigga. That is not your son. Stop lying. Nigga, you could be living in a motherfucking ranch right now, nigga.” You know, whatever your father’s into, if you’re rich, you’re gonna get him that shit. I would’ve got that nigga all kinda harnesses, ranches—you know what I mean? I saw the nigga recently—I had a show in New Orleans. And I ain’t afraid to put this out there, ’cause this is just how much I don’t give a fuck about a nigga, and I want people to see how you’re not supposed to be. I was parked at the hotel, and I saw him walking outside the hotel. Just walking back and forth. I’m like, “Look at this nigga! You gotta be looking for me.” If Lil Wayne got a show in New Orleans, the whole of New Orleans knows. Basically, you’re not there for nothing else but me. So I call my man on the bus. I’m like, “Nigga, that’s my daddy.” He’s like, “Word? Oh shit. That nigga looks just like you!” So I tell my man, “Go see what’s up.” So my man goes to holla at him. He tells my man, “Oh. I didn’t know y’all was here. I’m here waiting for this little ho to get o¬ff. Get off¬ work from the hotel.” For real? That’s when I was like, “Typical Dwayne Carter.” So that’s what’s up with me and my real father. I don’t want to look like his ass, but I do.
GQ: Are the tattoos a way of not looking like your dad?
Lil Wayne: Tattoos are just a way of expressing myself. Me being me. I just went crazy. I don’t know what happened. I think somebody slipped something in my drink, like a drug that’ll make you get, like, a bunch of tattoos.
GQ: How does life look right now through Lil Wayne’s glasses?
Lil Wayne: I can describe it like this: Today I was riding up to the venue. I had just woken up, and I looked out the window, and there was like a billion cars in the parking lot. I turned to my girl, and I said, “Isn’t it crazy how all those cars and all those people are there to see me?” And the craziest part was I still could get that feeling. All this time, after all those albums, videos, all those awards and money and groupies and homeys and gangbanging and friends and no-longer friends. That I can still get that feeling, like, “Wow. This is amazing.” That’s what it is to be me. Yeah.