Lil' Wayne Gunning For #1 Debut With 500 Degreez

Youngest in Cash Money's camp out to prove label still blazing.

Don't let the recent departure of label cornerstones Juvenile and B.G. alter your opinion of Cash Money Records.

Instead, notice the success of the Big Tymers' Hood Rich, which debuted at #1 earlier this year, and the excitement surrounding the release of Lil' Wayne's third album, the ambitiously titled 500 Degreez, on Tuesday (July 23). This is the rationale Lil' Wayne subscribes to, at least.

"If you cut on your TV any time today, tomorrow, the following month, the month after that or the rest of this year, you gonna see Cash Money in your face," Lil' Wayne said. "We're still a company and we're still blazing, man. We the hottest thing out this year.

"If you speak on companies that's blazing this year, you got to say Cash Money," he continued. "We killing it. We got Big Tymers just came out. They touched #1. I know when I drop, I'm gonna see #1. It's crazy, man. We're here. Whatever problems we had, we swallowed them, digested 'em and forgot about them."

Forging ahead, Lil' Wayne teamed with fellow Southern hot boy Petey Pablo on "Gangsta Sh--" and visits intimate portions of his own relationships on "Young 'N Blues." With the latter, Wayne gives a rare peek into the mind and heart of a hip-hop thug.

"I kept it gangster and that's hard for a lot of people to do, touch on a sensitive subject and still keep it gangster and still have the 'hood agree with you on that," he said. "I had to write something on it, and I don't write books, poems. I had to write a rap. I recorded it, but I didn't mean for it to be on the album. I recorded it to LL Cool J's 'I Need Love' beat, and Mannie [Fresh] heard it. He was like, 'Nah, this got to go on your album with another beat.' "

Although Juvenile's 1998 album, 400 Degreez, made Cash Money Records a household name, it was "Bling Bling," a song from B.G.'s 1999 album, Chopper City in the Ghetto, that sparked a catchphrase that became the New Orleans label's calling card. Since then, the label has suffered from the departure of those two marquee acts over alleged financial and creative differences, leaving Lil' Wayne as one of the only long-term acts on the notoriously materialistic imprint, whose recent roster moves include the signing of veteran gangster rapper Mack 10 and West Coast singer TQ (see "For Lil' Wayne, Bling Bling Still A 'Way Of Life' ").

Being a last man standing of sorts doesn't faze Wayne, who remembers a speech from label co-owner and Big Tymers member Baby.

"When we first got in the game, Baby sat down and told us that he's going to give us enough stability financially and enough love from his heart where we would never have to take this sh-- too serious," Wayne said. "I don't know who listened, but I did. I never cared about what was lacking or if we were dying out or if somebody was dissing bling bling. I never cared about all that. I know I make good music. As long as I know that, then I'm all good."

Wayne also takes pride in the new Cash Money partnerships with veteran beatmakers Jazze Pha and Rodney Jerkins, two hitmakers who will deflect some of the pressure from long-time Cash Money producer Mannie Fresh.

"We're deep with the producers right now," Wayne said. "We've got a three-all-star team which stars the first, the veteran, the best, Mannie Fresh. Then you got Jazze Pha and we got Rodney Jerkins. It's crazy."

Wayne hopes fans will soon be going crazy for another Cash Money-related development, his own Young Money Entertainment. The business' first release will be from Sqad Up, a rapping quintet of which Wayne is a member.

This expansion works well with Cash Money's freshly minted business plan. "Baby and Slim just woke up one morning and were like, 'Just us in the circle thing is cool, but to keep this tree strong, let's get a few more branches,' " Wayne said. "That never hurts if you pick 'em right."