Lil Wayne had a helluva 2010, and just think: He wasn't even around for most of it. The New Orleans MC has been on Rikers Island since March, serving time on a weapons charge that dates back to 2007. But before he went in, the Cash Money rapper adopted a work ethic reminiscent of Tupac Shakur.
To wit, he released the compilation album We Are Young Money in late December '09, two full-length solo LPs — Rebirth, which debuted at #2 on the Billboard albums chart and has since gone gold, and I Am Not A Human Being, which sold 110,000 copies in its first week of release in September — more than a handful of videos and a couple of notable collaborations. A mainstay on the Hottest MCs list, his time away precipitated a fall of five slots from last year's #2 ranking, but MTV News' Hip-Hop Brain Trust still voted Lil Wayne the #7 Hottest MC of 2010.
"I think he did not necessarily plan the jail portion of his career at this point," MTV's RapFix blog editor Hillary Crosley said during this year's roundtable discussion. "But I think he certainly prepared for it ... so that he was able to just keep it coming."
Perhaps Wayne's biggest accomplishment of the past year was finally seeing his protégés, Nicki Minaj and Drake, become bona fide stars. Aubrey Graham was right behind Wayne on last year's list, coming in at #3. This year, Drake released his first full-length LP, Thank Me Later, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard albums chart. Wayne and Drizzy were practically joined at the hip on radio, mixtapes, bumping from car stereos or at the club. Among the tracks that scored heavy rotation were "Forever," "Money to Blow," "Bedrock" (also featuring Nicki Minaj) and "Miss Me," to name a few,
Nicki popped up on Wayne's single "Knockout" and he traded the favor on "I Gets Crazy," but she also proved her solo prowess, landing a #1 record all by herself with "Your Love," as she rides Titanic-size buzz ahead of her debut, Pink Friday.
"[Wayne] going away, it felt like it didn't really hurt," said Sean Lee, MTV News' supervising producer.
MTV News senior writer Jayson Rodriguez agreed: "He has this impact by the people that he's introduced. And they've helped carry him while he's not even here right now."
But it wasn't just Nicki and Drake that benefited from a Wayne assist. Kevin Rudlolf's "never-say-die" anthem "I Made It" sold a half-million copies with help from a Weezy feature and U.K. singer Jay Sean's "Down" got play throughout 2010, in spite of it hitting airwaves way back in May 2009.
And finally, there was Eminem. Em and Wayne parlayed their mutual respect for each other into two notable duets: 'Drop the World," from Rebirth, and "No Love," from Eminem's Recovery. Neither song set the charts ablaze, but both were critical highlights that found two of hip-hop's illest lyricists in rare form — spitting those raw rhymes. The songs were reminders that being nice on the mic still matters, not only to fans but to the MTV News Hip-Hop Brain Trust, which takes into account factors like buzz, commercial success, impact and lyrical flow in selecting the Hottest MCs in the Game.
That said, incarceration did present real drawbacks apart from the obvious. Wayne couldn't tour much in 2010. And he couldn't bask in the accolades that came his way, including nabbing two BET Awards and coming in at #4 on the Forbes 2010 list of "Hip-Hop's Cash Kings," with $20 million in earnings.
According to Lee, Wayne far and away nailed all of the Brain Trust's Hottest MCs criteria. "Flow, lyrics, impact, buzz, sales," he said. "Not to mention the intangible: That's ultimate star power when a dude's been gone away for this long and we're talking about him as if he's still here."
The 2010 Hottest MCs in the Game rollout is now complete! As in 2008 and 2009, the criteria is based on a combination of rhyme skill, flow, buzz, commercial success, business ventures, Web presence and cultural influence. Upload your comments, reactions, arguments and/or your own list to Your.MTV.com or send tweets with the hashtag #hottestmcs — the best responses could be on TV or our hip-hop blog, RapFix!