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In 2003, rapper Lil Twist was riding high in his hometown of Dallas. His debut single, "Texas Twist," was a massive ground-level hit. Based on club and street heat, the single quickly climbed to number one on Dallas urban radio and stayed there for six weeks straight. A major-label bidding war ensued.
But just as quickly, the momentum turned into a backslide. Twist's big booster at the first station to play his single got fired, and the song disappeared from the airwaves. "They snatched my song off the radio, and I had a huge downfall because they were player-hating. I would hear word around that everyone was saying, 'It's over for Twist,'" he now recalls.
It's a typical story for any struggling rapper, except for one detail: Lil Twist was, at the time, just 10 years old. But now the rising star is having the last laugh. As the youngest signee to Lil Wayne's Young Money label, Twist, who recently turned 18, is also poised to become its next breakout star.
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His path to the top of the charts began long ago, when he was a precocious 7-year-old mimicking his older relatives. "All of my cousins are older than me, and they were rappers," he says. "I was just being a follower at that moment and just wanted to be like them. But then I found myself really liking it and seeing I could do it. So I kept at it."
By age 10, he had released "Texas Twist" and drawn major-label interest, especially after a performance at the Greg Street Car Show in Atlanta. The gig scored him an offer from Jermaine Dupri and So So Def Records, Twist says. But he held out until his fateful meeting with Lil Wayne.
After an opening slot for a Young Money show in Tyler, Texas, Twist slipped Wayne his demo, which soon scored the young man an invitation to a test recording session in Houston. "Just seeing him through the glass, watching me rap, was very scary," Twist says. "He was actually helping the other artist he was developing, Lil Chuckee, write his rap, and he told me to go write mine. We fixed a few words, and then once I delivered it in the studio, he was like, 'All right, we've got a problem!'" The problem was in the slang sense — just the opposite of its literal meaning — and Lil Wayne's latest protégé was born.
By 2008, Twist was hitting the road nonstop with the rest of Young Money. Back at home, though, he still attended high school and tried to live a relatively low-key lifestyle. It was tough. His star was already on the rise, thanks to noted appearances in Wayne videos for "Got Money" and "A Milli." "Kids were really, really bothering me at school. My high school basically recommended I home-school," he says. "I was a distraction to the kids just by being on TV!"
But again Twist seems to have gotten the last laugh. Besides Lil Wayne, Young Money has already produced bona fide megastars in Nicki Minaj and Drake, while others such as Tyga and Cory Gunz may not be far behind. Now with Twist's Don't Get It Twisted slated to be the next big Young Money release in June, the full weight of the imprint's untouchable brand image might help push the album over the edge.
And if his record blows up, it'll make the lack of a normal teenage life worth all the trouble, Twist says. He doesn't really feel like he missed out, though. "Everybody else would probably say, 'Oh, they're pressuring you to do so much hard work.' But this is my fun and games," he says. "It's not a normal childhood because it's always work. But this is what I love, and this is what I chose to do."