#20 — Run This Town

#20 — Run This Town

A few months ago, someone tried to tell me that Kendrick Lamar was superior to Lil? Wayne. I would?ve found their argument defensible had it been centered on Kendrick?s cultural impact, for he has become hip-hop?s most influential voice during this decade?s racially and politically-charged social environment. Instead, this person was adamant that Kendrick?s pure mic-skills are of a higher standard than Lil Wayne?s ever were. I quickly found that, despite being only four years younger than me, my combatant wasn?t old enough to remember Wayne?s Apex. This individual?s pro-Kendrick stance was in large part due to his Wayne memories neglecting everything that happened prior to 2008?s Tha Carter III.

We dissect a rapper?s resume by their studio albums. This serves as the measuring stick for their legacy. In Lil? Wayne?s case, this strategy is impossible, if not irresponsible. You can?t separate mixtape-Wayne from album-Wayne, for the former represents the MC at his absolute peak. An entire generation of Hip-hop heads ? between the ages of 21?30 ? has never seen a rapper approach the heights of Lil? Wayne between 2004?08. Over this five-year period, he dropped 15 mixtapes and four studio albums; establishing the blueprint for a hip-hop heat-check. Wayne?s ridiculous run made him a transcendent star, while solidifying his status as the ?Best Rapper Alive.?

In honor of Lil? Wayne?s unprecedented ascent, here are the 20 best mixtape songs in his catalog.

Mixtape: No Ceilings (2009)

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On October 22, 2009, Lil Wayne pleaded guilty to attempted criminal possession of a weapon. He was due for sentencing in February 2010 and was expected to receive a one-year county jail sentence. Eight days later, he released No Ceilings. Fittingly, the last mixtape he released before spending eight months in prison, was his final classic. ?Run This Town? was the tape?s highlight, as Wayne jumped on the moment?s hottest song, making the Jay-Kanye original, obsolete.

#19 ? Kush

Mixtape: The Leak (2007)

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Lil? Wayne released The Leak ? a five song EP ? in December 2007. Recorded during Tha Carter III sessions, the tracks were leaked online early, forcing Wayne to package them as an EP. While ?I?m Me? dominated the airwaves with its feeling of urgency, ?Kush? was Wayne at his most playful. The track was an ode to his drug of choice, comprised of weed-based punchlines. If you didn?t know any better, you would?ve sworn that Wayne sounded genuinely happy.

#18 ? Let?s Talk It Over

Mixtape: The Drought Is Over 2 (The Carter 3 Sessions) (2007)

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?Let?s Talk It Over? was one of an endless array of tracks that leaked while Wayne flooded the market during 2006 and 2007, before finding its home on The Drought Is Over 2 ? a mixtape compiled of 20 tracks presumed to be recorded for his upcoming album Tha Carter III. Produced by Streetrunner, it was soaked with the sped up soul samples which became the duo?s go-to sound. Even at his lyrical peak, Wayne never sounded more at home than when rapping over exuberant soul.

#17 ? I?m a Beast

Mixtape: The Drought Is Over 2 (The Carter 3 Sessions) (2007)

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The beat?s a monster in its own right ? no pun intended ? yet it couldn?t prevent Wayne from grabbing hold of the listener within seconds. The track showcases Wayne?s unrivaled ability to sound urgent while rapping about seemingly nothing. His magnetic charisma is on stage during the first four lines, as he justifies not rhyming this line ? ?My bitches act snobby/Because I feed them thousands? ? by saying, ?I know that didn?t rhyme but I?m just being honest.? By the time he ends the second verse claiming hip-hop?s throne is his for the taking, it?s impossible to not believe him.

#16 ? Prostitute Flange

Mixtape: The Drought Is Over 2 (The Carter 3 Sessions) (2007)

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By 2007, every rapper was using Auto-Tune to compensate for their lack of melody. Wayne hadn?t done as much as dabble with the growing fad, making ?Prostitute? that much more surreal. Imagining his rasp alongside Auto-Tune seemed like a disaster, until we heard it. Over six minutes, Wayne used his raw emotions to turn an ode about a hooker into an undeniably catchy track. Without ?Prostitute?, there is no ?Lollipop? and ?How to Love.?

#15 ? Get Em

Mixtape: Dedication 2 (2006)

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Dedication 2 is the moment Lil? Wayne was beginning to be considered the ?Best Rapper Alive?, and the mixtape?s opener ? Get Em ? sets the stage accordingly. Following a fitting voice-over (?You are watching a master at work?), Wayne delivers on his promise. It was the most precise and motivated he had ever sounded, spending three-straight minutes going after every doubter ? make believe or otherwise ? that was still arguing Wayne?s status.

#14 ? Swag Surf

Mixtape: No Ceilings (2009)

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In the Summer of 2009, ?Swag Surfin? became inescapable. It was a refreshing radio hit which sounded like nothing else, with an upcoming group ? FLY (Fast Life Yungstaz) at the helm. Leave it to Wayne to render the original, irrelevant. Like he had done many times before, Wayne captured the overarching melody of the song, while making it his own. Looking back, it?s the final classic moment on his last classic mixtape. A moment in which, Wayne was still undeniably, the best rapper alive.

#13 ? Pussy Money Weed

Mixtape: N/A

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?Pussy Money Weed? leaked in October 2007, mere months after Wayne dropped back-to-back mixtapes ? Da Drought 3 and The Drought Is Over 2. Somehow, this track never found a home. Given its lasting-power, perhaps Wayne did this on purpose. Ten years on, the track?s iconic title has influenced countless others; but only Lil? Wayne could take a tongue-in-cheek stance on such an ignorant title.

#12 ? Sportscenter

Mixtape: Dedication 2 (2006)

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Tha Carter documents Lil? Wayne in the period before and shortly after the release of his commercially acclaimed album, Tha Carter III. Various parts of the film follow Wayne recording in his hotel room, with ESPN?s Sportscenter looping in the background. It?s worth noting only because it?s surreal to see the most popular rapper alive, one who happens to be the quirkiest, coming off as your boy-next-door. Three years prior, Wayne introduced his love of sports on this Dedication 2 offering. He spends the track?s opening thirty seconds name-checking every relevant ESPN show, before unleashing a two minute verse without breaks. The nonchalant way he panned from sports-talk to straight BARS, exemplifies Wayne?s ?always-rapping? persona.

#11 ? I Feel Like Dying

Mixtape: The Drought Is Over 2 (The Carter 3 Sessions) (2007)

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Only peak-Wayne, at his most eccentric, could twist a drug-induced ode to death into a perky tale of life. Over a creepy, yet melodic beat, he gives us a glimpse into the mind of a codeine-crazed drug addict. Wayne is able to make non-syrup drinkers feel like they know the high. In recent years, having witnessed cough syrup?s presence throughout Future?s discography, it?s hard to imagine him being able to do so, without Lil? Wayne; and specifically, ?I Feel Like Dying.?

#10 ? Cannon

Mixtape: Dedication 2 (2006)

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?Cannon? is too chaotic to distinguish what sounds you?re hearing. Masterfully, Wayne uses the simultaneous pandemonium to produce one of the greatest lyrical exercises of his career. Most importantly, though, the track is an example of Wayne?s ability to command the room. You quickly forget about the looping tag provided by producer DJ Cannon ? ?Cannon?Cannon? ? because all you are worried about is listening to the master at work.

#9 ? Upgrade

Mixtape: Da Drought 3 (2007)

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It?s easy to forget that Beyonce?s ?Upgrade U? was a hit-song before Lil? Wayne freestyled over the Swizz Beatz-produced track on Da Drought 3. Wayne convinces the listener that the beat couldn?t have been meant for anyone but him. Backed by Swizz? trademark horns and claps, Wayne does lyrical gymnastics for three-straight minutes. Fittingly, the original featured a verse from Jay-Z. By the time you listened to Wayne?s version, Jay?s mediocre verse was cringe-worthy.

#8 ? Georgia Bush

Mixtape: Dedication 2 (2006)

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Kanye may have been the first rapper to call-out George Bush in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but Lil? Wayne?s response is the only one that matters. As a New Orleans-native, Wayne gives a first-person account of a city left in shambles, verbally attacking the sitting-POTUS. Wayne?s genius, though, is his juxtaposition of the nostalgic feeling of Field Mobb?s ?Georgia? with his palpable anger; Following up each ?Georgia? voice-over, with his self-inserted, ?Bush.?

#7 ? La La La

Mixtape: The Drought Is Over 2 (The Carter 3 Sessions) (2007)

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Although Tha Carter III is a certified ?classic?, we?ll always wonder what could?ve been. Due to an endless amount of leaks while recording the album, Wayne was forced to package all of the tracks into a mixtape; for all intents and purposes, known as The Carter 3 Sessions. While some of the songs may have been left on the cutting room floor, even without any leaks, ?La La La? feels like it was one of the casualties. Even though ?Tie My Hands? is an emotional masterpiece about his hometown post-Katrina, ?La La La? is an ode to New Orleans, soaked in pure exuberance.

#6 ? Something You Forgot

Mixtape: The Drought Is Over 2 (The Carter 3 Sessions) (2007)

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What other rapper could sample Heart?s corny 1985 hit, ?What About Love?, without turning it into a tacky attempt at a heart-wrenching love song? No one. On ?Something You Forgot? Lil? Wayne uses the ?80s ballad as the back-drop for a tale of regret and lost love. Unlike the soul samples at that time, which were commonly altered to evoke nostalgia and buoyancy, the pop-rock sample is left largely unchanged. Listening to it ten years later, it?s still hard to understand how it works; only that, somehow, it does.

#5 ? Dough Is What I Got

Mixtape: Da Drought 3 (2007)

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Jay-Z retired in 2003, leaving the throne unoccupied. Over the next two years, 50 Cent, T.I., and Young Jeezy grabbed it momentarily; but only when Lil? Wayne proclaimed himself the ?Best Rapper Alive? on 2005?s Tha Carter II, did it feel like hip-hop was close to crowning a new king. The following year, Jay-Z returned with his first single ?Show Me What You Got.? The track, as well as its accompanying album, Kingdom Come, felt forced. Enter, Lil? Wayne. In April 2007, he boldly used the beat for Da Drought 3, flipping the chorus into ?Dough Is What I Got.? In an instant, the torch was passed.

#4 ? Cry Out (Amen)

Mixtape: Lil Weezy Ana Vol. 1 (2006)

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You would never consider Lil? Wayne to be a sentimentalist. In the rare times he does bear his soul, though, perhaps no other rapper is more effective. On ?Amen?, David Ruffin?s ?Hey Woman? provides a melancholic vibe for Wayne to spill his emotions for four-straight minutes. The most touching line of the song comes while Wayne reflects on the people in his life who?ve passed away ? ?And I swear I got a lump in my throat/But I?mma keep on pumpin the flow.? This is what makes the track such a masterpiece ? Wayne is able to strike the listener?s nerves despite focusing on issues most personal to him. Simply, ?Amen? is heart-wrenching; yet somehow, inspirational.

#3 ? I?m Me

Mixtape: The Leak (2007)

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When you?re surrounded by yes-men building you up constantly, I suppose it?s impossible to maintain the chip-on-your-shoulder mindset which helps push rappers toward hip-hop?s upper echelon during the early stages of their career. Once you reach a certain level of popularity, the rest is in your hands. Fortunately for us, Lil? Wayne didn?t succumb to overwhelming praise. He claimed to be the ?Best Rapper Alive? in 2005, and continued to do so until his status was cemented in 2008. In 2007, ?I?m Me? was his latest record built on self-affirmation. Fittingly, Lil? Wayne used a poop reference to reinforce his streak of dusting the competition.

?The only time I will depend is when I?m 70 years oldThat?s when I can?t hold my shit within, so I shit on myself?Cause I?m so sick and tired of shittin? on everybody else.?

#2 ? We Takin? Over

Mixtape: Da Drought 3 (2007)

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On 2007?s best posse cut ? DJ Khaled?s ?We Takin? Over ? Lil? Wayne only needed the final 40 seconds to contribute the track?s best verse, if not the best of the year. Two months later on Da Drought 3, Wayne laid down a two minute verse which made the original seem nothing more than a prelude. In its entirety, the verse stands as one of the best of his career, but the final 30 seconds may be the most accurate testament to his greatness; specifically, when Wayne spends four-straight lines uttering words (?Beef! Yes! Chest! Feet!Tag! Bag! Blood! Sheets!Yikes! Yeeks!). Somehow, the sequence makes sense. Wayne blacked out so effortlessly, so often, that his brilliance made him immune to following the rules taught in Grammar School.

#1 ? Sky?s The Limit

Mixtape: Da Drought 3 (2007)

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Hip-hop accepted Lil? Wayne?s habit of beat-jacking, in large part because his remixes frequently supplanted the originals. There is no better example of this than ?Sky Is the Limit?, which uses the beat from Mike Jones? single ?Mr. Jones.? Wayne didn?t just use the beat to showcase his unmatched prowess, but also crafted an entirely new song out of the triumphantly dark instrumental. Ten years on, ?Sky Is the Limit? is the best anthem in Wayne?s catalog, if not one of the greatest in hip-hop?s last decade. Most importantly, though, it represents Wayne at his most urgent; one year before being unanimously considered the ?Best Rapper Alive?, on this track, he was still playing the role of underdog.

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