[artist id="510062"]Lil Wayne[/artist] is just the latest hip-hop star to have his career put on pause because of a stint behind bars.
At Wayne's formal sentencing next February, the Cash Money Records lyricist is expected to be sentenced to one year in prison for attempted gun possession. The case stems from a July 2007 arrest that occurred just as the gifted rapper was ascending to his current status as one of the biggest music draws in the world.
The jail time will likely come while Wayne is still in promotional mode for two new projects, his rock-flavored Rebirth album and the Young Money compilation, slated to hit shelves and computers this December. (A source at the rapper's label told MTV News his legal troubles would not impede the release of future projects.) Experts say Wayne could maintain his career momentum ... if he follows the examples of previous success stories.
Lil Wayne's counterpart in Southern rap royalty, T.I., confronted a similar situation just last year. Tip's Paper Trail album was released in September 2008, only months after the Atlanta star struck a plea deal for illegally attempting to buy firearms. Two of T.I.'s songs, "Whatever You Like" and "Live Your Life," were still huge radio hits when he began his sentence in May.
But since T.I.'s been behind bars, he's managed to win a MTV Video Music Award and a BET Hip-Hop Award, and came out with two new music videos from his since-cancelled Paper Trail re-release. Tip has arguably been as successful away as he was while free. He could even be the most successful jailed rap star ever.
Tupac certainly could have made a case for that not-so-privileged title. In death, the controversial rap star has been a cash cow, but while he was locked up, 'Pac also achieved something most free stars haven't been able to achieve: a #1 album on the Billboard 200 chart. His 1995 album Me Against the World debuted at the top of the charts while 2Pac was imprisoned for sexual assault.
Before beginning their sentences, both T.I. and 2Pac wrote some of their most challenging tracks. Tip's "No Matter What" addresses the inner strength the rapper called upon to maintain his composure despite his uncertain fate. And 'Pac's "Me Against the World" title track is one of the more powerful true-to-life tunes detailing a rapper's life.
Former Roc-A-Fella rapper Beanie Sigel recorded some of the best music of his career while he was facing jail time on federal weapons charges in 2005. The B. Coming was a hard-earned collection of tracks that focused on paranoia ("Feel It in the Air"), remorse ("I Can't Go on This Way"), and the looming threat of losing his freedom ("One Shot Deal"). The album stands as a testament to the Philadelphia MC's ability to blend vivid rhymes with the dark reality of his life at the time.
Mobb Deep's Prodigy is another MC who entered prison during high period in his career. The New York rhymer resurrected his career with 2007's Return of the Mac, but a gun rap in Manhattan sent him away in 2008 for three and a half years. Since then, he's maintained a mild presence through blogs and his Web site.
Perhaps the most infamous of these examples is that of former Diddy protégé Shyne. The rising rapper was arrested and charged for his involvement in the Club New York case in December 1999, before he even released his self-titled debut album in 2000. By the time he released his second album, Godfather Buried Alive, in 2004, Shyne was already serving his 10-year sentence. The rapper has been away for so long, however, that it's hard to speculate what his career would have looked like had he been a free man. But fans are still salivating for his release from federal detainment — he finished his sentence but could be facing deportation to Belize — and wondering if the Brooklyn MC still has it.
With or without a looming jail sentence, Lil Wayne already works at a frenetic pace. He records daily, and it's almost impossible to estimate how many tracks he has on standby. Faced with a sentence that will likely see him in prison for eight to 10 months, Wayne could potentially put his foot on the gas and flood the reserves.
His next immediate project is the No Ceilings mixtape slated to arrive around Halloween. Combined with Rebirth, the Young Money album and albums by Birdman, Drake and Nicki Minaj, fans may be in for a feast of Weezy, even if he won't be around to enjoy the fruits of his labor.