[Ed. note: Lil Wayne’s recollections include sex, drugs and profanity; we present them here uncensored. Reader be advised.]
If you were to line up every famous piece of writing penned while its author was incarcerated, it would make for one vast and varied bookshelf -- from the great Nelson Mandela's autobiography Conversations With Myself, written during his 27 years spent in prison, to the beginnings of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf.
Suffice it to say, the free time, loss of self-determination, forced reflection, and flat-out boredom that come with incarceration have long been recognized as a petri dish for the written word.
Exactly where in this literary canon will history place Gone ‘Til November, Lil Wayne’s newly published journal from his eight months behind bars? Only time will tell. What I can tell you now, having recently finished the 176-page book (out Oct. 11; Penguin/Random House), is that prison sounds truly, mundanely and consistently miserable -- even if you’re a celebrity worth $150 million.
Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., 34, is best known to the casual Top 40 fan as the raspy, cough syrup-coated drawl behind songs like 2008’s inescapable "Lollipop." But to people who spend their days concerned with these sorts of rankings, he's also one of the greatest rappers of all time; the Washington Post once called him a "nonsensical genius," while Kendrick Lamar, hip-hop's current golden child, continues to pledge his allegiance. Wayne is scattershot at times, sure -- but vital to the fabric of modern rap music nonetheless.
Which is part of why it made for such screaming headlines when Lil Wayne, aka Weezy, was convicted of possession of a firearm in 2009, and in March 2010 began serving a year at Rikers Island. That sentence was reduced to eight months, over the course of which the rapper apparently journaled nearly every single day.
The result is a simple (and, as someone in his camp clearly realized, easily marketable) diary: Each entry is titled with that day’s overarching mood or sentiment, from “Day 1 Up In This Bitch!” and “Welcome 2 Da Family” to “This Fucking Place.”
If you’re looking for the TMZ highlight reel, it’s easy to find. Visiting hours bring drop-ins from Kanye, Diddy and Drake, the last of whom apparently confirms the fact that he used to sleep with Wayne’s then-current girlfriend. (That entry is titled "Bad Day.")
Here’s the rub, though: If you’re in for the long haul with Weezy -- and you should be -- you’ll soon notice that the gemstones, the tiny yet genuine flashes of epiphany, are buried so far beneath the mundanities that they almost give you whiplash when discovered.
Truly, if there’s one thing that makes plain exactly how little editorial polish this book received, it’s not his vocabulary or syntax. It’s the fact that this two-time BET Lyricist of the Year's honest accounts of overwhelming sadness, regret and anger are wedged between sentences like: “Doritos burrito time! Charlie showed me how to add a beef jerky stick in my shit a couple of days ago. Shit is great!” Which is, of course, how real life goes. Deep feelings don’t always wait for that perfectly timed 15-minute mark. Sometimes they arrive around lunch.
Let’s be clear: this book is repetitive, and it’s sometimes a slog. Things that make Weezy happy are generally punctuated by a “Yeah!” while bad things get a “Damn!” Sometimes there are several of each in one paragraph. Facts you will know when you finish this book include an exhaustive inventory of foods Lil Wayne consumed during his time behind bars (coffee with lots of sugar, Cup o’ Noodles, chicken and rice, burritos with either Doritos or Ruffles in them); exercises Lil Wayne did (triceps, obliques and back, usually, if he goes to yard; push-ups later in his cell before bed); and TV shows and movies Lil Wayne watched (a lot of sports, loves the Red Sox, hates the Yankees, he thought Shutter Island was cool, he’s a big fan of Martin, and he’s down for American Idol and Dancing With the Stars, though that last one mainly because Erin Andrews is hot). Nearly every entry concludes “Push-ups, prayer, ESPN, sleep.”
But every 15 pages or so, you also get something like this:
This letter that I got from a church made me think a lot. They were making some real good points about how if I’m going to be rapping, I should be rapping for the Lord ‘cause that’s the reason why I’m here. I didn’t really know how to take that. Did they mean the reason for me being here on Earth or in prison? Regardless of the point that they were trying to make, it really did have me considering that maybe I am going down the wrong road.
It’s not like I thought I should stop rapping or no shit like that, but more if I was rapping for the Lord, I’d probably be the coldest nigga on the planet. I was looking at it like everything that I do already gets followed, so if I fucked around and did that, I would literally change the world. It would be way bigger than having a million mothafuckas walking around with tattoos every-damn-where with dreadlocks or saying shit like “bling-bling.” I would truly have the power of having pop culture turn to God. I would have straight killers in church every Sunday.
Man, I really got lost in those thoughts listening to Lauryn Hill and dozed off. That’s when God spoke to me in my sleep and told me to stop tripping. That’s not my calling...yet, that is…’cause if it was, those types of thoughts would be popping in my head instead of “I will merk you,” “I will shine on you,” and “I’m going to fuck that bitch.” It was a cool thought though… but it was just a thought.
Classic Lil Wayne: He knows better than anyone the greatness of which he’s capable; he'd just generally prefer to ignore it.
It’s tempting to blame his well-documented codeine addiction for, well, a lot of things. But if you’ve been following the man’s output, it’s undeniable that in the releases since his career-defining Tha Carter III, he’s become that gifted kid you want to send home from school with a note: Not quite working up to potential. (Worth adding here, perhaps, that he actually was an honors student at his magnet high school in New Orleans until the age of 14, when he dropped out to focus on music.)
Which is part of why, for Lil Wayne fans, the prospect of his rapping skillfully, intelligently and introspectively again -- even sorrowfully, as he does on "Mad," from Solange's new record -- feels like the sun emerging from behind the clouds. As Micah Peters recently put it in a Ringer piece praising Wayne’s guest verses, “it’s not that he only can rap about weed and cunnilingus; it’s just that he has to remember to not rap about those things.” When he tries even a little, he can make people cry.
Other moments of self-reflection arrive with a less-defined lightbulb. He spends a lot of time on the phone with his kids’ mothers; he feels awful that he’s not there for birthdays. He eats Oreos and wishes he was high. He answers fan mail. He gets a job as a suicide prevention aide, then quits after a few shifts, noting vaguely how unsettling it was to be that close to suicide -- a sentiment that takes on new weight in light of that verse on “Mad,” in which he raps about his own early suicide attempt. He records a verse for Drake’s “Light Up” over the phone. He gets an mp3 player taken away from him; he reads Anthony Kiedis' autobiography. He convinces his girl to come for a visitation not wearing any underwear, just so he can sneak a look. Security catches her and makes her put boxers on.
By the time we get to the exuberant last entry -- titled, helpfully, “Last Day” -- we get a clearly enunciated Moral of the Story.
“Jail has changed me forever,” he writes. “The greatest positive that I take away from this bullshit is that I was able to tap into a depth of creativity that I never knew was in me. I’ve always thought I needed things like being high with my niggas, a Buggati, a dope ass crib, or some big booty bitches to be creative. But once all that was taken away from me, my creativity was put to the ultimate test. And I passed that shit like a mothafucka! I’ve never felt more creative in my life!”
Peace doesn’t come easy to Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. He sounds lonely a lot -- distrustful of other people, and also loathe to be left alone with his thoughts. (As he laments on “Mad”: “It’s hard when you only got fans around and no fam around, and if they are, then their hands are out…”)
But if this book provides a window into anything -- between the food lists and the push-ups and the damns and the yeahs -- it’s a glimpse at a person learning to nurture a quiet resilience in the face of boredom, which is to say in the face of himself.
Does that count as rehabilitation? Probably depends on your view of prison. (How about if it lasts 18 years instead of eight months?) Regardless, Gone ‘Til November makes clear exactly where Weezy’s demons lie. And also this: he’s not going down without a fight.