It’s a common misconception that going to jail can make a rapper hot. Other than Tupac, who emerged from his mid-1990s prison bid a bigger star than he was when he went in, most artists struggle to develop post-prison musical dominance: Shyne has yet to capitalize on his almost nine-year bid, Gucci Mane has spent most of the year behind bars, and T.I. is just now starting to put his troubles behind him.
Credit Lil Wayne with beating the odds and becoming one of MTV News’ #3 Top Newsmaker of the Year . When you think of the Best Artists of 2011 — Lady Gaga, Adele, Katy Perry, the Throne — none of them had to face what Wayne did.
It was November 4, 2010, when Weezy was released from his eight-month prison bid for attempted gun possession — not much time to prepare for the year to come. Still, when it was all said and done, Wayne’s Tha Carter IV dominated charts, and his I Am Still Music Tour — which consisted of 78 shows across Africa, Australia and North America — grossed more than $47 million. Weezy practically lived on the Billboard charts, and Nicki Minaj and Drake, two artists signed to his Young Money record label, left a huge stamp on the past 12 months as well.
Not long after the curtain closed on 2010, fans were anticipating Tha Carter IV. And while it took a little longer than first predicted, Wayne was far from a musical recluse. On January 3, Chris Brown tweeted a link to his now-omnipresent hit “Look at Me Now,” and while the spacey smash might have been a winner on its own, Wayne’s appearance on the third verse damn-near guaranteed tens of thousands of radio spins.
In March, Tunechi premiered his “Inception”-inspired Carter IV video for “6 Foot 7 Foot” on MTV. A few weeks later, MTV News was there as the YM general opened his I Am Still Music Tour in Rhode Island, and we checked in on him as he eventually took his concert across the world.
Weezy’s live show set him apart from the rest of the year’s artists. Aside from his own tour, MTV saw Wayne play Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival and Bamboozle , and he even had his own “MTV Unplugged” special in June. Oh yeah, and Tunechi closed out this year’s MTV Video Music Awards with a rocked-out stage show.
Then, when the moment of truth finally arrived, Weezy dropped Tha Carter IV on August 29, and fans ate it up — 964,000 of them during its first week on shelves. Of course, we partied with him the night of the album’s release .
It’s hard to deny a guy who dominated radio with his own singles (“How to Love” and “She Will”) as well as with songs he was featured on (Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now,” Kelly Rowland’s “Motivation” and DJ Khaled’s “I’m On One”). It’s hard to deny a guy who mixed rap, rock and pop in his 2011 live shows, bringing fans of multiple genres together. And it’s hard to deny a guy who guided the careers of both Nicki Minaj and Drake — two superstars in their own right.
There is no science to why Wayne is so successful. Artists like Jay-Z and Kanye West or Katy Perry and Britney Spears come off as far more calculated, while most times, Weezy seemingly wings it. What other MC would wear animal-print jeggings during the VMAs just minutes before his album is released?
Tune doesn’t care, though. It’s Wayne’s world, and we all just live in it. Makes you wonder what would happen if Katy Perry ever gets locked up …
MTV continues our Best of 2011 coverage by looking back at the biggest pop-culture stories of the year. As we count down the newsmakers that mattered to you most, also check out our Best Artists , Best Songs , Best MTV Live Performances and Best EDM Artists of 2011.