"When Fresh wasn't no longer producing for us, I think it was a gift and a curse. The curse is 'cause I never would have wanted it to be like that, 'cause I came up with him. But the gift was once I let the shit go, it gave us an opportunity to start molding our talent," he says. "Now we get to pick what we like and what we think people like."
Since then, "we" has meant Birdman and Lil Wayne, the last original Hot Boy standing. Wayne was never a Lil like Bowwow or Romeo. He was always a manchild, even at the age of 11, when Birdman took him under his wing. And Birdman insists he always knew Wayne would be a star.
"Wayne never stopped," he explains. "He take it like a professional; he never stop working and that's why he where he is. And besides that, the li'l nigga supergifted, extra-smart, talented like a mothafucka. You know it's possible that they can have another Wayne come out, but what he 'bout to do is a miracle for us to see. We was fortunate to grow up on Tupac, but he died young. This shit Wayne got bigger that. Bigger than Tupac, bigger than Biggie and Jay-Z. It's crazy."
In 1999, when Wayne went on record and told grown men to "separate me from the fake" and that they "better vacate the premises," it seemed he was issuing a call to foes in the street. But looking back, it was clear that Wayne's statement was prophetic and that he was talking to cats in the game right now. Currently his career is unparalleled. Now 13 years in the business without having fizzled out, he boasts a voice that is flooding Top 40 radio stations as well as tracks featuring him alongside Beyoncé and Britney. And he still maintains the underground cred that made him famous.
It has served as validation during the more fraught moments of Birdman's career thus far. "I never folded. I never cracked under the pressure," he explains. "I never thought about doing nothing else. I just kept hustling and it paid off. I ain't never fall off my rock." He's absolute in his answer, but as he continues, his bravado seems to fade and he becomes subdued: "Through my experience in life, you got to lose to gain. That's one of my theories."
With the release of his latest album, 5 Star, slated for release December 18, and his contract with Universal up at the end of the year, more changes are undoubtedly on the horizon. But one thing he promises won't change is his presence in the industry. "This is our way of life, so this shit ain't goin' nowhere. We want it so bad, so we gonna go real hard regardless."