Lil Wayne’s reputation as among the best rappers alive long preceded his career as one of the best talkers of the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to Young Money radio, which launched on April 24 as a weekly show on Apple Music (slated to run 12 episodes deep, it airs Fridays at 7 p.m. ET), Wayne has brought in the likes of Eminem, Nicki Minaj, T-Pain, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell as guests on the program, which recently marked a major milestone of over two million listeners tuned in live.
What was supposed to be a sports podcast initially has since turned into a weekly phenomenon. In a recent interview with Variety, Apple Music’s global creative director Larry Jackson and Wayne’s manager Mack Maine highlighted the importance of community and giving back — two essential components to the mission of Young Money radio.
For decades, the New Orleans native has delivered endless hits and projects, with accolades that can hardly be articulated into words. Wayne’s skills as a rapper, lyricist, and MC are unmatched when it comes to his rhymes, storytelling, double entendre punchlines and distinct voice. Beyond that, the 37-year-old built an empire with his Young Money Records imprint, catapulting the careers of Drake, Nicki Minaj, Tyga and more. (Maine hinted that fans can expect new energy behind Young Money Records, stating “that’s another one of the goals with this platform — [to] premiere new artists.”)
In a rare interview, Variety chatted with the Miami-based Lil Wayne about getting Young Money Radio off the ground, how he’s adapting to life during COVID and the recent efforts towards social justice for Black Americans.
Young Money Radio started in quarantine, what made you think of the idea and how did you go about getting the ball rolling?
The radio station was already an idea before quarantine. We’d already had Nik do it [via Nicki Minaj’s Queen Radio] so we knew it was something I’d maybe be interested in.
What does it mean to be able to have a platform to speak out on racism and the recent incident with George Floyd? Who do you think you’re reaching?
It means a lot to [me] to have such a platform, but the unique fact of it is how meaningful it can be for others. You never know who you’re reaching, so you reach for the stars and hope whoever you’re reaching can do the same.
What challenges have you experienced in putting the show together?
There hasn’t been any true challenges with putting the show together thanks to Mack, Rick, Matt, Manny and the Apple team! They prepare the same way every week and they make it a walk-thru for me.
We heard they literally went inside your home in Miami and set up all the equipment. Can you walk us through that process?
They’ve set everything up in my studio/skatepark, basically my heaven! They did all that without me, but for me. They set it up and break it down right there in the studio and it couldn’t be more comfortable, which plays a huge part in the fact that I’ve NEVER done this before.
You’ve had some major donations, what does it mean to give back during this time?
I thank God for my blessings everyday, it’s a blessing to simply be able to give back. I also thank and applaud all those who have.
Eminem came on, matched and donated another $250,000. What was your reaction?
I wasn’t surprised at all by Em’s donation because I’ve known him forever and it’s simply a part of who he is. He’s a guy who lives for those around him to live better and his donation speaks volumes to that fact. We are bros.
Eminem said you guys have to go on the internet to look up your own songs. That’s epic. What songs did you have to look up?
I ALWAYS have to go to the internet for my lyrics. ALWAYS!! For songs you wouldn’t believe. It’s been everything from ”6 Foot 7 Foot” all the way to “How To Love”!! I’m just forgetful.
How’s your relationship with DJ T. Lewis evolved over the years? Would you guys handpick the songs together or was that more him?
DJ T. Lewis has been around for a while now so he’s fam. The onstage chemistry is always on point and on the show, it’s no different. And Lew picks all the songs!
Reaching two million listeners was a major milestone. At this point of your career, do you care about numbers?
Numbers are always important to me because they simply don’t lie. I personally thank everyone that tunes in!
Can you talk about that hilarious story of how you thought Wheezy’s producer tag was Future shouting you out?
When I first heard the “Wheezy outta here” drop said by Hendrix, I thought it was the homie shouting me out until I heard it on a zillion songs. I had to ask myself, “Who da hell you think you is for this man to be shouting u out and you ain’t even on the song?!” I love Wheezy’s s–t though.
You recently paid tribute to soul singer Betty Wright, who died in May. Did she have a big influence on you? How did you first become a fan?
Ms. Betty was like a mom. I became a fan as a kid because my mom would listen to her s–t loud as f–k in the crib while she’d be getting dressed. What stuck out was the talking on the records that Ms. B would so famously do. Another interesting and consistent fact about it all is that whoever played her songs knew every word of the talking part! As a kid, you’d have to sit there and have them try to act like Ms. B and talk to you like that. It obviously stuck with me. I met her when I moved to Miami, she was nothing but a mother ever since. Not only to me but my friends and my daughter as well. She’s more than missed by myself and a world of others. I have a lot to thank her for but I thank her most for my musical confidence! I can do anything.
Do you like rolling your own weed? How much do you smoke in a day?
I roll alllllll my own shit and I don’t count.
You had guests from Kevin Durant to Shaq to Nav, did you prepare at all or did you wing it?
I don’t always have much time to prepare for the guests on the show but it varies throughout the week. So yes, I guess I wing it. But I thank EVERY SINGLE ONE of the guests. Every guest was special, they all meant a lot to me. A whole lot. The simple willingness and time is highly respected by me. I’ll forever be grateful to them for that.
What’s a typical day for you during COVID and in quarantine?
A typical day for me is the same it was before quarantine: a day full of productivity in every way possible. I wake, I thank, I think, I eat a lot of steak, I work till I can’t anymore, and I sleep then repeat. I choose product over pride and pray for my prey. Amen.
I ask every Lil Wayne fan this question and curious to hear your thoughts: what’s your favorite Carter?
My favorite Carter album is the next one.
We all know you have a great relationship with Nicki Minaj. Can you bring us back to one of your wildest memories with the Barbie in the Young Money days?
I have a lifetime of memories with the beautiful Barbie! It’s too many to pull from but the funniest one is when we shot a video for one of her songs and I had to be the guy in bed with her!! Tooooooo difficult! All dat azz on a n*gga ain’t a game, Jesus. She made it easy though, she’s a doll forever. I love her for real.
How far do you want to take Young Money Radio? Do you enjoy being a radio host?
I’d love to take YM Radio as far as it can possibly go because I truly didn’t expect it to be so satisfying for the consumer and that’s always first. I damn sure didn’t think I’d enjoy the whole hosting thing but I’m having a blast with it. I also like helping get my guests’ opinions across on whatever the case may be. I know that they know it’s all love with me.