Day 256: “U-Way (Remix)” feat. Lil Wayne – YoungBloodZ, Against da Grain, 1999
I recently was a guest on my friend Drew’s radio show, at the college radio station in the town where I grew up. We found a 12-inch of this record in the library, and it was a hell of a discovery.
Lil Wayne’s legacy is too vast to pin to any one thing, but as much as it rests on his own songs, it is tied to his features. And as much as his features in the mid-2000s cemented his claim as the best rapper alive or his features at the end of that decade cemented his broad pop appeal, Lil Wayne’s ubiquity on mid-tier Southern rap hits in the late 90s (largely Cash Money’s own, but still) cemented his place as a regional hero, priming him for that eventual ascension to best rapper alive status a few years later. Lil Wayne’s career was built on doing things like hopping on a remix of a YoungBloodZ hit for that special ATL-New Orleans connection. (As the hook explains, the YoungBloodZ say “shawty” because they are from Atlanta, but they also say “whoadie” because of New Orleans.)
YoungBloodZ, probably best known for their Lil Jon-featuring hit “Damn,” released their debut album Against da Grain in 1999. It featured “U-Way,” a solid proto-crunk ATL rap banger with a particularly entertaining football game-themed video that features a funny interlude about Bolt 45, the “first 40 ounce sports drink.” It came out on LaFace Records, the same label that launched Outkast, who were at the time the biggest artists in Atlanta and perhaps hip-hop at large. Presumably LA Reid was eager to repeat their success. Such renown wasn’t ultimately in the cards for YoungBloodZ, which puts them and songs like this one into an odd historical limbo. They weren’t big enough to really penetrate the mainstream, meaning that someone like myself—11 years old when the song came out— had no idea it existed. But on the other hand, it’s a pretty boilerplate late 90s Southern rap hit, which means that it doesn’t quite rise to the level of being entered into the history books (until now, this moment, where we are entering it).
And so it’s easy to lose track of just how important songs like this were in building Lil Wayne’s legacy one verse at a time. After all, when it came to have a stand-in for the idea of “New Orleans,” who did the budding rap group call? Seventeen-year-old Lil Wayne. When it came to remixing—and really remixing, with entirely new verses and hook—a local hit, who was up to the task? Lil Wayne from the 17th Ward. On its own, this is a good song. In the rich tapestry of Lil Wayne’s career, this is a golden thread. Many rappers have fantastic careers that never rise in visibility above a few solid features like this. How incredible is it that for Lil Wayne a song this good barely rises to the level of footnote? What are you waiting for to listen to it? As Wayne raps, “We about to get it crackin’ let the bodies go down.”
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