Sane in the Membrane

Believe it or not, Lil Wayne is cool, calm, and calculating.

Lil Wayne is not batshit insane. Let's be clear about that. Okay, he regularly refers to himself as an extraterrestrial and seems to have an utter disregard for the rule of law and for his health. He has even publicly kissed his surrogate father, Cash Money Records head Birdman, on the mouth, despite the objections of the rampantly homophobic mainstream hip-hop world. Still, Wayne has his shit together.

One wouldn't call his public image self-consciously constructed, per se, but unlike just about everyone else in hip-hop, Wayne has taken the old adage "Be yourself" to its logical — or highly illogical — conclusion. His new album, Tha Carter III, is commercially and critically the biggest rap CD of the year — perhaps one of the biggest, period. That's what can happen when you partake in a couple of years of foreplay, releasing practically a career's worth of material via mixtapes and guest appearances, as Wayne did. See — not crazy.

Lil Wayne: Still playing basketball on Mars.
Jonathan Mannion
Lil Wayne: Still playing basketball on Mars.

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But as good as III is (more about that later), it's just the sideshow. On the grand stage of hip-hop, the real attraction is Wayne himself. Start with his increasingly tattooed, rumored-to-be juiced figure, which perhaps approximates that of a surly Martian. "I think the tattoos intimidate [people] and show them they'd better not walk up to me," he explains. "Because I'll knock your fucking head off."

Move next to his unconventional voice, of which there's really no other way to describe than amphibianlike. Continue with his unorthodox approach to marketing, and finish with his hypersexualized persona. Who else could be accused of homosexuality while simultaneously being linked to video vixen/tell-all author Karrine "Superhead" Steffans?

He sucks XXL magazine covers, blogger hype, and hood hysteria toward him like a black hole. And he's possibly the only artist to earn a Best New Music nod from indie-rock-centritc Pitchfork Media and receive the loudest cheers at New York radio station Hot 97's annual Summer Jam concert earlier this month.

Needless to say, I'm stoked to talk with him. It takes three weeks of nagging his publicist, but we finally connect by phone on a Friday evening as he rides on a bus through the Southeast somewhere. His voice is low and sullen, and his mind wanders when I pose a question he doesn't feel much like answering.

"Which track on the album are you feeling the most right now?" I ask.

"All of 'em, baby."

I get only a few, probably stoned, minutes with him before his phone cuts off. It's possible he has hung up.

At least he doesn't freak out like he did recently with a reporter for Foundation, a mixtape-centered magazine, who asked him about, well, mixtape DJs. "I'm like Arthur Nobel, or whatever his first name was; you know, the Nobel Peace Prize guy?" he said in a clip of the interview widely circulated on the Internet. "He created gunpowder and created all them mass destruction things that killed millions of people," Wayne digressed, proceeding to compare himself to the Swedish scientist — who was actually named Alfred and invented dynamite — and dissing the mixtape game.

In any case, we get back on the phone, and he grows more animated when I ask him about his adopted hometown of Miami. "It's perfect here," he says. "I just like how beautiful the weather is every day, to tell you the truth. I've got a high-rise, so I like the views."

Although he lives in the midst of party central, he almost never hits the town — say, in a disheveled tux bearing trunks of suckers for ladies to writhe atop, like he does in the video for his chart-topping hit "Lollipop."

"I don't go out much," he says. "For what? If I do go out, it's not even a party no more, it's just a big look-at-Lil-Wayne fest, so I stay in the studio, and I get paid to party. I'm not going to go out if I'm not getting paid, so why go out if I get paid to party in the studio? And I'm 25 years of age — I've got my whole lifetime to party."

He might not have much of a lifetime, though, if he continues to sip his publicly professed beloved cocktail of Hawaiian Punch and promethazine cough syrup while he smokes weed all day. (However, he insisted to Blender he doesn't do any other drugs, and recent rumors that he checked into rehab proved unfounded.)

But somewhere in the depths of his drug-addled mind there's a Clinton-like concern for his legacy. He's still not a household name among most mainstream Americans, after all. (Your parents almost certainly haven't heard of him, the way they might have of 50 Cent and Kanye West.) And so he's branching into acting, having recently finished shooting Hurricane Season, which also stars Forest Whitaker, Isaiah Washington, and Bow Wow. Directed by Tim Story (Fantastic Four), it's a basketball feel-good that takes place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and was shot on location in New Orleans.

"It's cool. I like it," Wayne says of his first major thespian experience, but adds he had trouble finding the patience that acting requires. "[T]he actual physical doing of it, I kind of had that in the bag, thank God; I was blessed with that. But it was the actual patience of being there that was difficult for me."

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