In the incisive words of one Shawn Carter, “nobody wins when the family feuds.” From inseparable to seemingly irreconcilable, the differences between Lil Wayne and Birdman cast a formidable shadow over the history of Cash Money Records. In their glory days, the duo had one of hip-hop’s most profitable protégé and mentor relationships, besieging the world with their Louisianan swagger and hedonistic bangers. But then, things began to wilt under the lights, souring what was once fruitful and scattering the remains across the news outlets for us all to gawk at in morbid intrigue.
Sure, many real-life father & son relationships have a propensity to bend and break, but they aren’t entangled in a web of multi-million-dollar legal proceedings and alleged death threats that brought a litany of other high-profile public figures into the firing line. After years of crisis talks that were largely shrouded in mystery, the release of “Ride Dat” insinuated that an emphatic truce had been brokered.
Flanked by Weezy’s fellow Hot Boy Juvenile, Baby and Weezy stand as a united front for the first time in five long years. Acting as the informal lyrical arbiter, Juvie The Great broached the elephant in the room as he declared: “It’s official, the whistle blowin’, the liquor pourin’. We had our issues and differences; we were sick of warring.”
As tight-knit as any label boss and star signee ever were, the tale of how Dwayne Michael Carter and Bryan Williams’ relationship grew so fractious has kept fans engaged for years on end. Now that they’ve finally come by some form of closure, the picture of how the two fell apart before gradually cleaning their relationship of its toxicity has become much clearer.
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Plucked from obscurity at the age of 11, the gratitude that Weezy expressed towards Birdman for bettering his life was both abundant and sincere. Tunechi was anointed as one of the leaders of Cash Money’s second generation and quickly progressed from Hot Boy to flagship artist. Although he made a strident debut solo offering with Tha Black Is Hot and consolidated the buzz on his next two outings, the first instalment of The Carter in 2004 truly signified that Wayne was destined for an unforeseen level of rap superstardom. From there, it was off to the races, with the paternal bond between Baby and his prized artist strengthening to the point where they routinely greeted one another with a kiss on the lips. When it incited no shortage of pejorative remarks, Baby was unmoved by the critique:
“That’s my son, ya heard me,” Birdman spat at Tim Westwood. “If he was right here, I’d kiss him again.”
Numerous smash hits and a gold-certified collaborative album Like Father Like Son later, it came time for renegotiations. This, for the most part, is where the spokes came off the wheel. When Weezy and his childhood benefactor initially inked a new four-record deal in 2012, the New Orleans native was the picture of contentment:
“We signed a deal in, I don’t remember when, and I been with Cash Money ever since,” he told MTV News. “So, if you’re looking for integrity, I am the definition. If you’re looking for a person that’s gonna stay down, I am the definition. If you’re looking for loyalty, I am just that.”
Notice the verbiage used there. Where most MCs would be shrewdly monitoring proceedings, Wayne painted himself with a hue of youthful naivety or perhaps even the serenity that comes with wilful ignorance of the fine print. Nonetheless, appearances can be deceiving and it was none other than their former Cash Money affiliate Juvenile that lifted the lid on what he saw as Wayne’s underlying doubts in 2012.
“When Wayne was trying to leave Cash Money, same thing. He was trying to find out how did I leave, what did I do, he wanted to see my paperwork,” he confided to Complex. “Wayne really got beat out of all his money and took another contract. That part I never understood.” Assured in the belief that Wayne wouldn’t have “collected a dime” in royalties from The Carter III’s success, Juvenile’s words and his knowledge of Cash Money— and subsequently Wayne’s 49%-owned Young Money subsidiary— proved to be a precursor for the bitter war that was to come.
Two years down the line, tensions had begun to erupt within the Cash Money conglomerate. Aggrieved at the long-awaited Carter V failing to meet its proposed release date, Lil Wayne took to Twitter to publicly voice his displeasure with Baby’s intervention for the first time on December 4th 2014.
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“I want off this label and nothing to do with these people but unfortunately it ain’t that easy. I am a prisoner and so is my creativity,” he continued. “Again, I am truly sorry and I don’t blame ya if ya fed up with waiting 4 me & this album. But thk u.”
While performing at Vice’s 20th anniversary party two days later, Weezy doubled down on his aural assault by claiming that “I was supposed to drop my new album Dec. 9, but due to technical difficulties I’m f—ed up in a bad situation. But I will be out of this soon and I do it for y’all. So put the motherf—in’ fives up for Carter V.”
Little did he know, the album wouldn’t surface for another four years. As 2014 gave way to 2015, Wayne and Birdman’s feud would transcend its cold war phase and give way to a skirmish of nuclear proportions. In a move that would’ve been unthinkable in the days where Wayne embraced the “Birdman Jr” moniker, Tunechi filed a lawsuit against Cash Money that was worth an eye-watering $51 million dollars.
Released a week prior to the lawsuit, Weezy clarified his position on Sorry 4 The Wait 2’s “Coco,” spitting “Cash Money is an army, I’m a one-man army/And if them niggas comin’ for me, I’m goin’ out like Tony/Now I don’t want no problems, I just want my money.”
Amid a spree of lyrical provocations on mixtapes and high-profile features, the next twist in the tale came when Wayne’s tour bus—which contained a litany of Young Money artists at the time— was shot at in April 2015. Due to his then-recent dispute with Birdman, many placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of his former mentor and his newest charge, Young Thug. A disciple of Weezy in every sense of the word, it was Thugger’s associate Jimmy Winfrey that would be found guilty of the offense, initially receiving a 20 year sentence while Birdman and Young Thug were indicted for conspiring to kill the Young Money lynchpin. Staring down the barrel of a life behind bars, Winfrey, also known as Peepee Roscoe, filed an appeal which claimed that Birdman’s “financial dispute with [Lil Wayne] is what ultimately led to the shooting.”
From there, Wayne’s defiant Free Weezy project, Baby’s $50 million countersuit over his apprentice’s affiliation with Tidal and an incident in which Birdman swilled his friend-turned-foe at Club LIV all served to add fuel to the fire. Shortly thereafter, legal proceedings pertaining to the Young Money advance, Drake’s royalties and Wayne’s suit against Cash Money’s parent company Universal Music Group only appeared to intensify their estrangement.
Yet despite each exacerbation along the way, talk of reconciliation always lingered on the peripheries. Even as Wayne rescinded their father-son relationship– No, his last name isn’t Carter, baby “He’s not family”– speculation ran rampant that they’d soon reunite. But time and time again, there would prove to be a stumbling block. In September 2016, Wayne even appeared to be throwing in the towel and sent fans into a panic-stricken frenzy by tweeting, “I AM NOW DEFENSELESS AND mentally DEFEATED & I leave gracefully and thankful I luh my fanz but I’m dun.” As artists from across hip-hop’s battle lines came out in support of Tunechi, this is when Young Thug’s fealty shifted back to the man who’d always served as his primary inspiration:
“@LilTunechi I promise I’m holding u down no matter what… fuck the world and what they think/feel I’m with u for life, ur the reason I rap.”
After another few months of a cooling-off period, the rumour mill started up that they’d finally exorcised their demons until a verbal infraction at Camp Flog Gnaw spelled the end of the peace talks. According to TMZ, Birdman and Wayne were within touching distance of a resolution until Baby learned that his former protégé had altered the lyrics of “I’m Me” to pay homage to Roc-a-Fella Records and Jay-Z.
As both men weathered a continued storm of mudslinging throughout 2017, one of the South’s great gatekeepers opted to intervene on the behalf of Weezy. While its potential importance is hard to verify, Rap-A-Lot Records’ chairman and elder statesman Jay Prince claimed that he’d ensure Wayne got what was he due:
“That’s a no-brainer. That’s the little homie, and as I’ve stated a few times, publicly, we going to get to the bottom of that. Wherever it’s at, we have to reach and grab it,” he said. “Even if it’s in his ass, you got to get it up outta there.”
Then on the April 2nd 2018, just two days after Wayne was spotted at Birdman’s launch party for Before Anything, Williams took to Beats1 to issue a heartfelt plea to his former confidant.
“I’m not gon’ let it just lay like that,” Birdman said. “There’s so many parts to it but it’s important to me that I make sure that sh-t’s straight. I ain’t worried about it benefitting me; he deserves that from me and I’ma give him that blessing… We gotta get this sh-t together cause it’s affecting our kids.”
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The bonafide turning point in the feud, Wayne settled his lawsuit against Cash Money in June 2018 before their war over Drake’s royalties was brought to an abrupt end in July of this year. Declared to have “been amicably resolved to the satisfaction of all parties,” it’s hard to see this mutual ceasefire as anything less than inextricably linked to their reunion on “Ride Dat.”
With Wayne now ten years older than Birdman was when the Cash Money magnate signed him to the label, this reconciliation means that for the first their time in their history, the two can finally stand side-by-side as grown men, friends, family and, most importantly, equals.