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L i l'   W a y n e    -    5 0 0    D e g r e e z

When Lil Wayne sought a title for his latest solo album, he wanted to choose something that indicated he and his Cash Money Millionaires' mates were better now than they've ever been before. He didn't have to look very far to settle on 500 Degreez for his third solo venture. The title is a play on one of Cash Money's biggest albums, the four times platinum 400 Degreez by label-mate Juvenile. If things were hot then, they're "a whole lot hotter now," says Lil Wayne.

Lil Wayne has always been the youngest member of the Cash Money crew but with the re-vamping of the label, the 19-year old suddenly finds himself as one of its veterans. "Lil Weezy," as he's also known, has always possessed the savvy of someone older - both in lyrical style and charisma - and now, with 500 Degreez, he anchors one of rap music's most successful crews.

Lil Wayne grew up in New Orleans, in the tough streets of the 17th Ward community of Hollygrove. A fan of early Cash Money artists UNLV and Pimp Daddy, who were tearing up the south in the early '90s, Wayne got down with the label after Cash Money bosses Baby and Slim took to the young kid's style, skill and persistence. Initially, Lil Wayne made his debut with the short-lived group, the BG'z, which featured rapper B.G. But it was as part of the Hot Boys - which included B.G. and fellow CMR members Juvenile and Turk - that Lil Wayne got to shine. On both of those albums, the indie release Get It How U Live (1997) and the platinum Guerrilla Warfare (1999), Lil Wayne distinguished himself as a genuine rapping talent.

When it was time for him to release his own solo album in 1999, at the age of 16, he didn't disappoint. His platinum-certified debut Tha Block Is Hot, remains one of Cash Money's most recognizable efforts. Lil Wayne's beyond his year's wisdom showed up in clever rhymes that balanced the hustler's life he lived with a sense of mature savvy. He followed suit with his sophomore effort Lights Out in 2000. In just a few short years, Lil Wayne has become a distinctive rap music icon around the world.

Lil Wayne tried his best to keep 500 Degreez as consistent as anything he's ever done. "There was nothing too different about making this one in my approach," he says. "There's maybe more creativity on my part but I got to do what I wanted to do. It's still in the Cash Money tradition. My skills are better and I was more at ease."

"Young Bluez" exhibits some of that new creative energy. "It's me speaking to the younger cats with the relationship blues," Lil Wayne explains. "You know I don't make songs for the average teens. This is for the young guys on the street, to tell them to keep they heads up. It's got a nice little blues riff. A lot of people aren't expecting this from me." Other standout cuts include the braggadocio blast "Look at Me," the playful storytelling of "Gangstas and Pimps," and the first single, "Way of Life," which Lil Wayne loves because it has newcomer TQ singing on the hook. "It's spicy," he says.

Production, of course, comes from the inimitable, longtime Cash Money beat-maker Mannie Fresh. Lil Wayne is enthusiastic of the union: "He told me before we started the album that he's got a point to prove with this one, so let's do it. He gave me his best material." But 500 Degreez also features production from new Cash Money collaborator Jazze Pha. "He fit right in with the program," Lil Wayne says of the southern producer who has previously worked with Snoop, 8-Ball, T.I., Too Short, Ludacris, Nappy Roots, Mystikal, and many others. "It's always good with him - and he samplin' too, Cash Money's first sample."

As he gets older, Lil Wayne is filling his role as Cash Money veteran nicely. In addition to his musical exploits, Lil Wayne recently started Young Money Entertainment to groom and release his own artists. Like his hot new release 500 Degreez, it's a sure sign that there's nothing "little" about Lil Wayne.

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© Universal Music Group (July 2002)

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