Lil Wayne’s “Shooter” Is Where Southern Rap Showed up to Do Business

Day 325: “Shooter” feat. Robin Thicke – Tha Carter II, 2005

“To the radio stations, I’m tired of being patient / Stop being rapper racists, region haters.” It’s weird to think about now, in the internet era where the world is flat and Atlanta is the capital of the hip-hop industry, but there was a time when one of the most substantial barriers to Lil Wayne proving he was the best rapper alive was simply that he was from the South. Never mind that Wayne modeled his career and his music after Jay-Z. Never mind that he had rapped over all kinds of beats. It had been a decade since Andre 3000 told the Source Awards that the South had something to say, and plenty of people were still entirely unconvinced. I don’t know if “Shooter” convinced them. But at least it aired out what every rapper from the South—hell, every rap fan from the South—was thinking: “This is Southern, face it / If we too simple then y’all don’t get the basics.”

In an interview with the Village Voice in 2006, Lil Wayne reflected on the message of the song and the way that perception of the South had changed over the years. “It’s changed, but not because of me,” he said. “It’s changed that people look at the South very differently now because of me and a whole lot of others. I cannot forget them, can’t even think about it without thinking about them. I’ve been trying my whole career, and they’ve been sleeping on me and they’re finally listening, and I got a lot of people to thank for that.”

He’s right, of course, but there’s no denying that Wayne was a big part of the regional shift himself. When he raps, “So many doubt ’cause I come from the South / but when I open up my mouth, all bullets come out,” he’s throwing down the gauntlet. It wasn’t the first time, but nonetheless critics took note. Much of the Pitchfork review of Tha Carter II focuses on the impact of “Shooter,” the way that Wayne basically swipes Robin Thicke’s song out from under him. In that same Village Voice interview, the interviewer, Tom Breihan, tells Wayne the song reminds him of “Hard Knock Life,” which prompts Wayne to excitedly explain that he and his friends had discussed the importance of having a “Hard Knock Life” of his own and that it’s great news if “Shooter” can be that song for him. It’s definitely a fan favorite, although it never charted as well as people seemed to be hoping for around that time. It did make it onto both Wayne’s album and Robin Thicke’s album, despite having already appeared in its non-rap, original form on another Robin Thicke album. Lil Wayne told the story of how it happened to the Voice:

[Robin Thicke] dropped that song on his album in like 2003. That song was already on his album without me. And before I even met him or knew him, I had his album because I liked his single. So when I bought the album, I heard that song, and I used to ride around on it. And in that song, you know, he’s a real jazzy live-band type of artist, so in that song he had a lot of parts where he wasn’t even singing; it was just the band playing. So in my car, when I would ride to it, I would rap to that part all the time. I told my manager at the time that I always liked that song, and I even rapped it for her and everything. We was like, “That’d be hot if we could do it,” but of course it was outside our farthest dreams that we could ever do it. And who knew that Universal collaborated with Motown, and he was signed to Motown, and I met his manager and him at the office one day. I told him about that song and about my idea, and he was like, “Do it, do it, do it.” And he asked me if I could do something for him, and I done it, done it, done it.

The video for the song somewhat hilariously riffs on this concept by imagining that Lil Wayne and Robin Thicke are neighbors who start playing the other’s CD on the stereo, which in each case causes a party to spontaneously appear. It’s a funny image and an oh-so-mid-2000s vibe, but it worked: The two went on to collaborate for Tha Carter III‘s big Katrina song, “Tie My Hands.” But that statement might not have meant as much without “Shooter.” Like basically every other song Wayne released from 2004 to 2006, it was a line in the sand. It was simple, but the rapping was bulletproof, and it got the message across. Who could question that the South had shown up to do business?

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