“Gossip” Was Lil Wayne’s Final Warning Shot

Day 358: “Gossip” – The Leak, 2007

Lil Wayne lines can be fun, and they can often be brilliant. But the best ones arrive like wake-up calls, punches in the gut that remind us how seriously Wayne takes the stakes of rap, of the competition it implies. Perhaps nobody has ever been as hungry to be the greatest rapper as Lil Wayne. And during no period was that clearer than his run throughout 2006 and 2007, when he seemed motivated by a superhuman desire to annihilate any other contenders for rap’s throne. As he rapped at the time, “the only thing on the mind of a shark is ‘eat.'”

But not everyone wanted to pay attention—they would, eventually, with Tha Carter III—and so Lil Wayne offered one such head-spinning bursts, on a song called “Gossip”: “I feel hip-hop stole me like a bus pass,” he raps, calling to mind his stolen youth as a Hot Boy, his decade of toiling to perfect the craft. “And so in your position I, I, I must ask”—at this point, he leaves the question to the sample, of Margie Joseph’s “Stop in the Name of Love,” which continues the thought—”haven’t I been good to you? Tell me, haven’t I been sweet to you?” This was the line that inspired A Year of Lil Wayne. It’s such a cutting question because it implies even deeper questions. Is Lil Wayne a martyr for hip-hop? Is Lil Wayne’s martyrdom what will save hip-hop? Does Lil Wayne as martyred savior of hip-hop become hip-hop Jesus? (On last year’s “No Problem” verse he implies as much). Like I said, it’s a punch in the gut.

If Lil Wayne is hip-hop’s savior, granting it ever-lasting life, we have all of eternity to continue pondering that question, which means there is plenty of space to move onto talking more about “Gossip” itself. After all, that line is just one of at least a dozen combative salvos on there. “You don’t have to pick me to win the title fight / but I’ma wear that championship belt so tight,” Wayne offers. “A gun is not a math problem, I won’t even think / Just leave you dead like the mink under my sink,” he suggests. “Gossip” is, true to its stated concept, a moment for Lil Wayne to clear the air, to brush aside other rappers.

“I always loved that sample,” the song’s producer, Streetrunner, told me earlier this year. “There’s like an interlude in the front, and the shit she’s talking was so dope to me. And I knew I could make it drop into a hard-ass beat when Wayne started rapping that part right there. [ Ed. note: Reader, he did.] So I thought it’d be dope to have her talk shit and it go into a crazy beat, and then cut back out and let her talk some more shit. You know, let her sing. It was kind of like a little working formula that I had with Wayne.”

Wayne was a master of this kind of beat at the time, which is in fact further proof of his competitive instinct. “Gossip” is through-and-through an East Coast beat (the only other rappers as obsessed with this kind of sample-driven, boom-bap stuff at the time were The Diplomats, and Lil Wayne was practically an unofficial member). And the East Coast style was still, despite how decisively Wayne was helping to shift the genre’s center south, hip-hop’s bar for lyricism. Wayne had always loved that kind of music anyway; naturally he set out to conquer it. A particular tic of his was using samples, like he does here, as a kind of hook to drive the song. So “Gossip” not only set out Wayne’s arguments to his competition; it did so on the competition’s home turf. East Coast pundits wanted to say hip-hop was dead? Lil Wayne was going to show up to argue that he was singlehandedly keeping it alive, and he would use the exact kind of beat they didn’t think was relevant anymore to prove it.

“I never could understand why rappers didn’t get it,” Streetrunner said of using the concepts of his samples this way, as a framework for the song’s theme. “Like I would send these dope-ass beats with these concepts that were just there, like yo, murder it. But like only Wayne would get it. And he would really get it. And when he got it, you see what type of songs he was making off of it. It just all made sense.”

Wayne took the prompt to silence the chatter around him fully to heart. He closes the song, “cut the check, nigga, fuck your props / and make it out to Mr. Hip-Hop,” adding, “I’m not dead I’m alive.” That would seem like a pretty strong rebuke of the mindset, popular in the wake of Nas’s 2005 album Hip-Hop Is Dead, that the new sound of hip-hop was leading to the genre’s entire decline. After all, how could the genre be falling apart when Lil Wayne was still rapping lines like these:

Don’t believe me, don’t believe in me
I’ve graduated from hungry and made it to greedy
My flow is like pasta, take it and eat it
But I’ma need cheese if I’m bakin’ a ziti
You niggas want beef? I want a steak and the weed, B
Lost in Amsterdam or Jamaica where weed be

I mean, come on! And then, as proof that he had graduated from hungry and made it to greedy, as proof that everyone else was in his hair “like the fucking po-lice” (get it, lice? But also police?), he debuted the song on a stage where nobody could miss his message. Specifically, he performed it live at the BET Awards. “Gossip” was one of the few songs Wayne had recorded in that 2006-2007 period that he had managed to keep under wraps (a product, Streetrunner said, of the fact that it had been left behind on a hard drive and never exported as an mp3 during the height of the leaks, languishing until around the time Wayne debuted it). And so it landed, accompanied by pyrotechnics, like a bomb. Lil Wayne, performing in front of a screen of himself wearing a shirt that read “I Am Hip-Hop,” was electric, explosive, revelatory. In fact, you should watch the performance right now:

“I remember watching the BET Awards, and the camera goes out to the crowd, and you see Wayne onstage ripping it down to this track that nobody’s ever heard in their life,” Streetrunner remembered. “And like fire fuckin’ going up on the stage, and all the pyrotechnics and all that shit. And like you look at the crowd, in the audience, and they’re all like ‘what the fuck is happening.’ That shit was super dope.”

From there, of course, it was a wrap. Lil Wayne went on to release the singles leading up to Tha Carter III, and his world-conquering run was no longer a matter of opinion. “Gossip” is his final warning, the last time he was going to say it. Hadn’t he, Mr. Hip-Hop, been good to you? Hasn’t he still?

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