I don’t think I’m better than anybody personally
I don’t think I’m better than anybody spiritually
I don’t think I'm better than anybody any way, form, or fashion
But as far as this rap shit, I think I’m better than everybody
I’m a competitor, and I hope everybody feels that way about their craft
Lil Wayne, "I’m the Best Rapper Alive"
Few people have ever cared as passionately about the rap game as Lil Wayne did in 2006. Yet for Dwayne Carter Jr. to claim any crown — this former child rapper from New Orleans, best known at the time for introducing "bling bling" to the national lexicon in his teens — drew suspicion from many fans in New York City and Los Angeles, the genre's traditional centers of gravity. How could someone with such apparent disregard for the album form, someone whose most memorable lines tended toward the absurd ("And my right wrist is looking like a cracked-open egg”), be the greatest rapper alive? Wayne set out to answer that question as decisively as possible with Dedication 2. Released 10 years ago this month, it remains a pinnacle of the mixtape form and a crucial milestone in the history of Southern rap.
That history effectively began for many fans in 1995, when Outkast won the Source Award for Best New Artist during the height of hostilities between the East and West Coast rap scenes. "The South’s got something to say, and that’s all I got to say," André 3000 announced, cutting through the tension in the room and making it known that a region that had been largely overlooked until that point was more than ready to join the broader rap dialogue. A decade later, though, there was still much debate over what, if anything, the South did have to say. Crunk's brash, shout-along hooks and deep-seated prejudices about a supposed lack of Southern intellect had contributed to an atmosphere of disrespect from rap listeners in the rest of the country.
Wayne's response was an almost aggressively Southern product in the form of Dedication 2. Rap mixtapes at the time weren't simply free albums, as they've evolved into since then; they were open-ended spaces for freestyles, remixes, and one-off studio sessions, and Wayne made the most of the format. Working with DJ Drama, he kept things southern-fried, rapping over beats from Memphis (Three 6 Mafia's "Poppin My Collar"), Atlanta (Outkast's "Player's Ball"), and Miami (Rick Ross's "Hustlin") — wildly distinct styles that directly challenged monolithic ideas of what the South could sound like on record. Most importantly, he gave national audiences a direct line into his hometown of New Orleans, which was still reeling less than a year after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. "I ain’t gon' lie, it ain't back to normal, because it’ll never be, but it’s back to a way that you didn’t think it’d be back to," he says in the skit "Weezy on the Streets of N.O." Then he jumps into "Walk It Off," one of the tape’s best tracks, mining the city’s rap history over the old-school Cash Money Records song "Don't U Be Greedy" by U.N.L.V. Mannie Fresh’s vintage production recalls bounce music, the New Orleans–specific offshoot of rap, and Weezy matches it note for note, slowing his drawl to bob and weave along with the beat. Wayne's sheer verbal energy could overwhelm a track in that era, but here he stays a little further back, allowing Mannie's production to take a lead that he nimbly follows, and name-checking the original track for anyone who's not up on Cash Money history.
The tape's emotional peak comes at the very end, with "Georgia...Bush," the unforgettable song where Wayne takes the grievances of his community and places them directly at the feet of then-President George W. Bush. “Then they telling y'all lies on the news," Wayne raps with focused intensity. "The white people smiling like everything cool / But I know people that died in that pool / I know people that died in them schools / Now what is a survivor to do?” Much of Dedication 2 balances the joy of Wayne's rapping with the somber memory of what was lost in the storm always hovering in the background; here, he holds nothing back in a fierce display of regional pride.
In 2016, the regional lines that shaped Dedication 2 have been blurred to the point of feeling almost completely lost. This year's most recent chart-topping rap hits feature a Brooklyn rapper bragging about his "broads in Atlanta," and a guy from Canada sampling a U.K.-funky track by Nigerian pop star Wizkid. Wayne himself went on to take rap's crown by popular demand within a year or two of Dedication 2; he's spent much of the decade since flirting successfully with pop — he even tried pop-punk. And while this year's Collegrove, recorded in collaboration with Atlanta rap veteran 2 Chainz, made it clear that Wayne will never entirely lose track of his Southern roots, Dedication 2 still stands as his most powerful statement on behalf of the people of New Orleans and a beacon for anyone from an underheard place on the map.