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It’s been 20 years since the release of Lil Wayne’s debut album Tha Block Is Hot and since then, the New Orleans MC has undoubtedly cemented himself as one of hip hop’s most impactful artists. In hindsight, he already accomplished this feat a decade ago. In 2009 when Wayne released No Ceilings, he had already reached a level of success that most artists only dream to experience. In the years prior, the Young Money front-man had produced a slew of hit records, critically acclaimed albums like Tha Carter II and Tha Carter III, as well as classic mixtapes like the Dedication 2 and Da Drought 3.
It’s often said that once a certain stature or sense of success is reached by an artist, subsequently there is a decline in hunger. In the mid to late 2000s, Wayne built a reputation as one of the game’s most hardworking spitters, an accolade that he earned through his prolific cadence of high-quality releases. So, when No Ceilings was announced to drop in October of 2009, it came as no surprise to his core fanbase. This release gave fans 21 tracks — skits included — from a still very motivated MC in signature fashion showcasing his skills over the hottest records of the moment.
It’s been 10 years since this tape officially dropped on Halloween of ‘09. It seems like there’s always an anniversary being celebrated, but it’s important to highlight the projects and moments that were essential to an artist’s story. No Ceilings is not Weezy’s best mixtape — we can argue — but nonetheless was an impactful moment and potent exhibition of emceeing that silenced any critics, who at the time, were pointing toward a decline. On “Skit #2” of the release, he spoke directly to his listeners stating, “I would love for you to look up into the building and understand that there is no ceilings. There is only the sky.” Wayne wanted to make it clear that he had not reached his peak and had no plans of letting up for the competition.
The structureless, bar-heavy style that fans have come accustomed to from Tunechi was in full effect. Wayne hopped on a wide variety of instrumentals from Kid Cudi’s “Make Her Say” to Dorrough’s “Ice Cream Paint Job” to Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams.” It was common during that era for Wayne’s freestyles to be more popular than actual hit records, and there were definitely a few instances of that.
On the cusp of the “Young Money Era,” the tape featured appearances from YM artists like Gudda Gudda, Tyga, Lil Twist, and Nicki Minaj. Despite the onslaught of bars throughout, one of the tape’s most memorable records was “I’m Single,” a woozy, slow-paced joint reminiscent of early Drake, produced by Noah “40” Shebib.
Wayne’s mixtape run during the 2000s is one that could never be duplicated, and No Ceilings was a more than worthy addition to his legendary catalog of projects. On this classic mixtape’s 10th anniversary, let’s take a look back at some of the best joints No Ceilings had to offer.
“Run This Town (Freestyle)”
“C-A-R-T-E-R, put the beat in ER, I’m colder than B-R, add another three Rs/Watch me like DVD/VCR, Pump to your chest, I ain’t talking CPR/ Riding this track like a motherf**king streetcar”
One of Wayne’s most lyrical displays on No Ceilings was delivered over JAY-Z, Rihanna and Kanye West’s featured hit “Run This Town.” Wayne fell right into a pocket with nearly three minutes of elite wordplay and a myriad of flows that put a much different twist stylistically on a record that we as fans loved. This freestyle hit the net days before the project’s official release, giving fans an indication of what kind of bag he was going to be in for this mixtape.
“Death of Auto-Tune (Freestyle)”
Lil Wayne is no stranger to hopping on JAY-Z records. In the past, he’d torched tracks like “Moment of Clarity,” “Show Me What You Got” and “Dear Summer.” Just listen to The Prefix mixtape if you’re interested in more examples. On the original “Death of Autotune,” JAY rapped that he might send it to the “mixtape Weezy,” and Wayne wasted no time answering the call, and spazzed out over the electric guitar and saxophone heavy No I.D. production. As an artist who’d been heavily experimenting with auto-tune around that time, he was intentional about this style on this one, channeling the same gritty energy as the O.G version. Another impressive performance.
“Banned From T.V (Freestyle)”
“Basically, I’m still a monster, ‘Til the fat lady sing, I come to kill a opera/Y’all too plain (plane), I’m a helicopter, My words keep going, like a teleprompter”
This is Wayne a rare form. His three-minute verse over N.O.R.E.’s classic posse cut “Banned From T.V” was a brilliant exhibition of lyricism, flows, and quote-worthy bars. The chip was back on his shoulder on this one and you could hear an elevated urgency in his delivery. As the track concluded, he proclaimed himself to be “the best to ever do it,” and when you’re rapping like he was on here, you have to right to spit with that kind of bravado.
“Swag Surfin (Freestyle)”
“Eastside who I do it for, Eagle Street, right by the store/Katrina wiped the city out but couldn’t f**k with Hollygrove”
This joint served as the tape’s intro and for good reason, as it was the perfect record to set the tone. Over F.L.Y.’s “Swag Surfin,” which still rings off at parties a decade later, Wayne delivered one of the project’s longest freestyles, but there was no lack in potency. Another signature display.
On this 10th anniversary, run back this epic tape and enjoy other memorable joints like Wayne’s “Oh Let’s Do It” and “Ice Cream Paint Job” performances. No Ceilings was a moment in time that proved, despite his massive success, the rapper still had the hunger of artist who was working to reach the top position, not just maintain it.