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The Kiss Heard Around The World first appeared on HipHopDX on October 26, 2006 under the headline “Who’s Your Daddy?” Lil Wayne and Birdman were pictured in a loving, if quick, embrace, lips locked, eyes closed. The surrounding guys in the picture looked away; this embrace was normal. But to the world, any cry of normalcy fell on deaf ears.
In 2006, homophobia ran rampant, especially in hip-hop’s frigid layer of masculinity. The picture became a fulcrum for enemies of Wayne and comedy routines looking to nuke his machismo. The explanation given by Birdman a week before it came out on New Orleans’ Q93 Radio didn’t do anything to change the minds of viewers. “Before I had a child, Wayne and all of them were my children, you heard me?” he said, passionately. “Wayne to me is my son—my first-born son—and that’s what it do for me. That’s my life, that’s my love and that’s my thing. That’s my lil’ son. I love him to death.”
Relationships sour as time passes; mindsets change as do circumstances, followed by behaviors, and then outcomes. We were led to believe that the spirited father and son duo—who had released Stuntin Like My Daddy in eerie sync with each other in 2006—had a connection comprised of vibranium, unable to be destroyed by worldly means. Wayne had met Birdman when he was eight years old in 1991. Their relationship strengthened as they grew closer and made millions together as mentor and protégé. But the events of the last four years proved that music industry politics hold no moral standards, and definitely no familial loyalty.
Lil Wayne brought Birdman out at his annual Lil WeezyAna Fest on August 25 in New Orleans’ Champions Square. There were other guests like Jeezy, Tory Lanez, and a surprise appearance by Nicki Minaj that was placed at the very last second, but Birdman’s appearance was the one that mattered the most. The father and son duo was nearing the denouement of their near half-decade feud. Birdman grabbed the microphone for what sounded like a sincere apology for all of the shit he’s put Wayne through. “It feels amazing to be fucking with my son, I love that nigga to death. I don’t know what y’all all know but I know what the fuck I know and I know how I feel about what I know,” he said, emotion running heavy through his words. “I knew this day was gonna come but I ain’t know when it was gonna come. But this nigga right here? The best nigga, the realest nigga, the illest nigga. And I wanted to apologize to my nigga worldwide. That nigga put his life in my hands.”
The crowd launched into raucous yells; finally, the apology that Wayne deserved. “We’re gonna do this shit’ til the day we die,” he added with gusto. “Still Fly” then cut through the somber mood, creating the playful atmosphere that belied a time where they were connected in ways that Birdman, and probably Wayne, hope that they can return to.
The second season of HBO’s Westworld provides what may be the most depressing psychological theory for humanity’s ability to grow. Delos, the fictional company that runs the park of the show’s name, finds a way to digitize the human mind to aid in its conquest towards immortality. In doing so, they make a startling, if sad, discovery. Humans don’t change. We have core drives and beliefs that, if given the chance to show over time, we frequently return to, no matter how much we claim to have changed or appear to grow. In the finale of the second season, a robot with a vendetta against humanity studies books containing these core drives before stepping foot into the real world, hinting at her ability to rule the world because she knows we think. In our conquest to live forever like her, we showcased just how inferior we really are.
Wayne shouldn’t need to examine Birdman’s core drives to know that he won’t change—neither should the public. Early Cash Money rapper Lil Slim cried foul play a few years after his 1995 debut Thuggin and Pluggin released when he claimed that he wasn’t receiving the right share of the album’s profits; the label’s entire first generation left the label soon after, claiming similar issues. Mannie Fresh left Cash Money in 2005 “because of money, scratch, moolah,” and one of his last producing credits before he left was Lil Wayne’s “Go DK”; its chorus, borrowed from a 1994 song from former Cash Money group U.N.L.V., also being the cause of another lawsuit from the collective’s lack of payment. Producers Jim Jonson & Deezle, Play Skillz, and Bangladesh, all sued Cash Money for compensation and/or royalty checks for their work on “Lollipop,” “Got Money,” and “A Milli” respectively from Tha Carter III. Pretty much, unless you sue Birdman, your money isn’t coming.
In the past, Wayne was on Birdman’s side throughout all of these endeavors. He remained with planted feet in the ground as Cash Money’s revolving door saw waves of artists come in, and waves exit amidst a flurry of lawsuits and claims of nonpayment. He was never publically disgruntled until their string of beefs began with a Twitter tirade on December 4, 2014 explaining the multiple delays of Tha Carter V. “To all my fans, I want u to know that my album won’t and hasn’t been released bekuz Baby & Cash Money Rec. refuse to release it,” he tweeted. “I want off this label and nothing to do with these people but unfortunately it ain’t that easy.” He filed a lawsuit against the label for $51 million, claiming that it failed to make payments for royalties, as well. By the following February, the two were no longer on speaking terms. Wayne dissed Birdman on Sorry 4 The Wait 2, drawing his ire, and aimed further flames at him in a Young Money cypher released on Karen Civil’s CivilTV in March of 2015.
To make matters even worse, Birdman appeared to be doing his best to skirt the situation and find Wayne’s replacement. He took Young Thug, a young Atlantean heavily-influenced by Tha Carter III-era Wayne, under his belt, attempting to create a new generation of Cash Money stars, as he’d been doing since the 90s when things got rough. Thug released his debut commercial mixtape Barter 6, a clear homage to Wayne’s Tha Carter series, on April 17, 2015. He’d also announced that his first show for the project would be in Hollygrove, New Orleans—Lil Wayne’s old stomping grounds. On April 26, Thug’s former manager Jimmy Winfrey was arrested for shooting at Lil Wayne’s tour bus repeatedly; the indictment revealed that Winfrey said the shooting resulted from Birdman and Thug’s beef with Wayne. Eventually, the Thug situation ironed itself out and Thug carved out his own niche.
Since 2016, although Wayne’s continued to have his fair share of words about both Birdman and Universal, the two have been together on numerous occasions—probably because legal proceedings were under way so Birdman would finally have to pay what he owes him. Wayne attended Birdman’s release party for the soundtrack to Before Anything back in March of this year and the two posed for a photo suggesting that the water was under the bridge. When the duo settled his lawsuits in June, they finally moved on from the past and into the present. Now, both are back into each other’s good graces. For Lil Wayne, now—more than any time—is the time to remain vigilant.
It’s very telling that this reconciliation comes after legal litigation. Birdman was content with the relationship dissolving into pools of hatred and possibly ending tragically. But his ability to come back into Wayne’s life, even sharing the stage with him, showcases that there’s still a soft spot for Wayne’s father figure somewhere in the recesses of Wayne’s heart. If Wayne is enticed into entering into another business relationship with Birdman, then the Cash Money figurehead deserves to be placed in the same prodigal company as Game of Thrones‘ Littlefinger. Birdman knows Wayne better than anyone; how to twist his cogs, strum him between his fingers, and play upon the paternal bond that brought Wayne to mainstream eminence. Their reunion could signal Birdman’s attempt to stoke the ashes of their old relationship to kindle a new one. Maybe they already have; this year’s appearance was calculated, timely, and sure to generate conversation.
The next chapter in their relationship will be defined by Lil Wayne’s industry-navigating skills learned over the course of two decades. No matter the familial ties to Birdman, he should keep him at bay to avoid becoming close to a situation that’s scared away artists for decades. Having been a part of the situation from the other side, it’s shocking to even incorporate Birdman into this year’s Lil WeezyAna Fest in the first place. Some behind-the-door dealings may have been done already that account for this but, in a hopeful world, where Wayne can separate business from past relationships, he can realize that he’d be better off without Birdman’s input. Keep the business separate and see the apology for what it is: a request to hop back into the mix for someone having trouble replicating Wayne’s impact with a newer generation of artists. Dozens of other artists have made the decision to turn away from Birdman; it’s time for Lil Wayne to make that call too.
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