New Orleans-bred, Miami-based hip-hop savant Lil Wayne harnessed the immediacy of the Web like no other musician in the past three years.
While record labels and top-selling artists clamp down on file sharing and free downloading, rap music’s Lil Big Kahuna donates hundreds of songs to the Internet at no charge, and in the process became the hottest in his chosen profession.
But in the past seven days, the eve of his slavishly anticipated sixth studio album, Tha Carter III, his dalliance with free downloads became dangerous.
Last Thursday morning, a photo of his new yet-to-be-released album mysteriously appeared online, ominously leaning against a keyboard.
The message – the equivalent of a death threat – was clear: someone was flaunting their ability to release Tha Carter III to the Internet, free for all to download, more than a week before it hit stores.
Sure enough, two days later, the album emerged online in its entirety.
Several mixtape DJs, via MySpace pages, claimed responsibility for the leak intended to harm album sales. It was reportedly revenge for disparaging remarks Wayne made against the mixtape trade. (Among other things, he declared himself “anti-mixtape.”)
The last time a Lil Wayne release slipped onto the Web, the rapper scrapped the entire project and gave it away for free on blogs. This time he’s using the unplanned release as yet another promotional push.
Against all odds, the album’s oral-sex-crazed lead single, Lollipop, released in March, has returned to the number-one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 – three weeks after it first topped that same chart.
Online, celebration (it’s been inducted into the “MP3 leak hall of fame” by the popular site Nah Right) has ceded to debates about the best Wayne punchline, best guest slot and whether or not he will once again switch up the lyrics to A Milli (a song from Tha Carter III that’s available in more than four versions).
So this week, Lil Wayne proved himself unleakable. Next week, when his album officially drops and likely outsells everything else, he’ll be on the verge of invincible.