On June 10, 2008, stores nationwide were filled with copies of the third installment of Lil Wayne’s Carter series. The album with the baby face covered in adult tattoos was purchased over a million times in under a week, the first time since 2005 that an album went Platinum in its debut week. It was a special time for Wayne, he was at the peak of his newfound celebrity, and selling a milli was the climax of Wayne’s tireless three-year grind—a time when he recorded as if possessed by the spirit of Tupac while under the influence of an endless supply of Adderall. His approach to music was gluttonous, feverish and inhuman—he called himself a martian and his actions only further branded the image. The road leading up to Tha Carter III is important, as it was a period in which rap witnessed the most massive collection of song leaks.
The amount of unauthorized music that surfaced online is unaccounted for, but it’s a well-known fact that the music leak affected Wayne and the final Carter III tracklisting. The leaks weren’t of the highest audio quality, but the quality of the rhyming made up for the lack of proper mixing and mastering. Songs like “I Feel Like Dying, “World Of Fantasy,” “Something You Forgot” and “La La La” found their way online and would become classics for fans who had an ear to the underground. If you only knew Wayne for the songs on the radio, you missed a special time. I remember being in high school, and how the immense amount of songs that spilled onto the internet brought the feeling of Christmas frequently. Hunting down each and every leak was similar to collecting all 150 original Pokemon; I had to obtain them all. I heard music that was rough, renamed, and which rarely credited the producer who was behind the boards.
STREETRUNNER is one producer who met Wayne right when he was beginning to work on Tha Carter III in 2006. He would achieve one placement on the final album, the incredible yet controversial “Playing With Fire.” He would continue to appear on Wayne’s projects, with production on everything from I Am Not A Human Being to Free Weezy Album. He made headlines this year for uploading older Wayne records to his SoundCloud, at long last sharing fan-favorite records with the mixing and mastering they deserved. Songs like “Cry Out (Amen),” “Trouble,” “Let's Talk It Over,” “Pray To The Lord,” and the Junior Reid-featured “RappaPomPom”—to name a few—are classic leaks, incredible Wayne records, and I had no idea they were all produced by the same guy. It’s one of the main reasons STREETRUNNER decided to start his Remastered series:
“The main reason I started mixing and mastering the records is last year going through YouTube I found the worst versions of these songs. I was cringing at hearing the way they sounded, so I decided to remaster one record for starters, and that song was “Cry Out (Amen).” After it was done being mixed and mastered, I tweeted out the song and the response was bananas. I had to upgrade my SoundCloud page two times the day that I dropped it because my page couldn’t handle the plays and the downloads. Once I saw that response from the fans, there’s clearly fans who want this. They need this. And every month I tried to do one. I tried to add a little extra remixes and versions that people haven’t heard, but for the most part I left all the songs in their raw form with a good mix and master to them.”
STREETRUNNER met Wayne one day at the Hit Factory studio while working on Fat Joe’s Me, Myself and I album. It was a chance encounter, completely random, and the unprepared producer just happened to have a beat CD in the car that he gave Wayne. Within an hour, Wayne’s management contacted him about the two of the beats: “RappaPomPom” and “1 Night Only.” That’s when he was informed that Wayne was working on the third Carter and these two beats would possibly be used for that album. STREETRUNNER crossed Wayne’s path in 2006, and he figured that considering how Wayne works, the album would be out sooner rather than later.
“After he recorded the first two songs that’s when I found out he was in 'Carter III' mode. In my mind, I was thinking he was going to knock it out and the album would be out in December, like 'Tha Carter III.' A lot of these joints would’ve possibly been contenders for 'Carter III' if they didn’t leak. But throughout the process of him building up that much-needed momentum that lead to him becoming as hot as he became during that era, two years of him just dropping music. All the features, mixtapes and legendary leaks. People were getting their hands on everything Wayne and putting it out for whatever reasons. But there was a time when I was with [Wayne's manager] just chopping it up and he showed me a potential tracklisting for 'Carter III' and I had four records on there: “RappaPomPom,” “1 Night Only, ” “Trouble,” and one more I can’t recall.”
“1 Night Only” and especially “Trouble” were two favorites from the Wayne leak era, but nothing was quite on par with the song “Gossip.” It’s possible that “Gossip” was the fourth record meant for an early version of C3. Before the release of Tha Carter III, Lil Wayne performed at the 2007 BET Hip-Hop Awards and premiered a new song, one that shocked both the crowd and fans watching worldwide. He rapped this unheard song with such a passion you couldn’t help but feel him. At the time, practically everything Wayne was recording was leaking online. There have been countless rumors on why—from valet drivers stealing CD’s and hacked emails to misplaced flash drives—but somehow “Gossip” stayed off the internet. STREETRUNNER, the song's producer, revealed how “Gossip” was able to stay leak free:
“Nobody knew it existed. One time I went to the studio for Mack Maine and Tez and Gee Roberson were there. Tez introduced me, told Gee about “Trouble and "1 Night Only,” speaking very highly of them. I asked Tez why they never talk about “Gossip” the way they talk about those records because “Gossip” was a monster. He told me that he never heard of “Gossip.” Back in December of ‘06 I got a call that Wayne recorded to the “Gossip” beat, and the engineer told me not to give it to anybody because the song was so hot. The beat was fire, so I had a feeling after Wayne recorded it that the song would be bananas. Since Tez didn’t know of the record, the engineer when through Wayne’s drives and found the record. The song was never bounced, and was left unopened and untouched after Wayne laid down his vocals. Wayne not bouncing it saved the record because during this time everything leaking like a faucet. It never reached any flash drive, CD, iPod, email, or was played in the studio. Not even management had it. Once they found it, it was on. Which lead it to being the song that he used in his epic BET performance.”
If you’re fan of Wayne, you know that the version of “Gossip” that appears on the 2007 EP, TheLeak, doesn’t have the same raw energy that made the live performance so riveting. When asked about the difference in energy, STREETRUNNER felt that the engineer that mixed the record took a bit of life out of it. He said even the original production is far more lively than what appeared on the five-track project. It’s worth noting that because Wayne rapped the song live at the BET Awards it’s impossible to compare the two, but STREETRUNNER believes that the raw recording that he has is closer to the live performance. He hasn’t decided if “Gossip” will be a part of the remixed and remastered releases, but there’s hope.
“Cry Out (Amen)" was originally featured on Lil Wayne’s Lil Weezy Ana Vol. 1, a 2006 mixtape that was also one of the first Young Money compilations. The tape is littered with impressive Wayne verses, but the rapping on “Cry Out” is exceptional. It’s Wayne at his most honest, transparent and heartfelt. He talks about Katrina, police brutality, his father, and even writing his will due to things getting crazy around him. The beat is soulful, just begging for you to pour your heart out. It's easily one of my favorite Wayne songs of all time, and I’m just now realizing who produced it. “Cry Out” wasn’t the first song that Wayne and STREETRUNNER did together, but it was the first one to be released. He was finally able to prove he was working with one of the best rappers on the rise. There’s some significance in the fact his first re-release was also his first song released with Wayne.
“These sessions are really old by the way. Some of them, I was looking for beats that date back to easily 2003-2004. Motherfuckers were still on MySpace back then, hahaha. If some of these records wouldn’t have leaked, I don’t know if Wayne even has all the old drives. It would be hard to search through all the music he did back then. I was lucky enough to make these records, get the sessions, and work on them hands-on. I got a lot of people like yourself that didn’t know I did it or are aware of me. I get hit up on Twitter by guys who tell me when they were in middle school and high school and these songs were their soundtrack and it’s super ill to me because my soundtrack in middle school was like Mobb Deep’s 'Shook Ones,' Nas’ 'Illmatic,' so to know I supplied the soundtrack for people is super dope to me. I’m glad I made my mark that way."
Going through STREETRUNNER’s SoundCloud, you'll notice that most of the music he supplied Wayne with is heavily sample-based. It’s rather rare to hear Wayne rapping over a track that utilizes sampled production, there’s a refreshing quality to it. Sadly, his one placement on Tha Carter III was removed after the lawsuit with Abkco Music Inc., who filed a copyright infringement and unfair competition. Wayne’s hook on “Playin’ With Fire” was deemed too derivative of Rolling Stone’s “Play With Fire.” The lawsuit led to “Playin’ With Fire” being removed from the album and replaced by David Banner’s “Pussy Monster”—a poor substitute. It was deeper than money, to go so far to have the song removed seems so unnecessary. Hearing how STREETRUNNER approaches his music now shows he’s learned from that situation.
“I just had a record drop called 'Shine' on the Meek Mill album and everybody will say, “That sample's hot,” but it’s not a sample. I been crate digging since ‘98 and I started digging harder by 2000-2001, by the time 'Blueprint' was out I was in a record store every weekend. Through my years of digging, and working with sampling, I have an ear for how a sample should sound. For Meek, I was able to create a sound that sounded like a sample. I had Draya from the Frontrunners do the vocals. My man Tarik Azzouz did the keys I needed. Once you have all the pieces, it’s all about making them sound like a sample. That’s the whole other art to it. I’m doing the same thing, just trying to eat and not get sued. That’s the goal.”
The Blueprint is an album that was brought up a few times during our phone conversation. It’s one of Jay Z’s classics and also an album that was blessed by the soulful sounds of Kanye West and Just Blaze. It’s an album where Jay stays alone, with no features from his Roc-A-Fella squad of spitters. Jay told MTV that The Blueprint was, “What I seen and what my life is and what made me the way I am. It's about me—it's more so about my thoughts and my opinions, and I wanted to just go at this on my own.” The soulfulness and the content of Wayne’s music on STREETRUNNER’s SoundCloud echoes a similar sentiment—it’s far more serious, personal and focused than some of the more fun, commercial records that appeared on the final Carter III. I know Wayne needed “Lollipop” and “Get Money” and “Mrs. Officer” to complete his crossover into the mainstream, but I can’t help but wonder if he built an album out of tracks like “That's Not Luv,” “Pray To The Lord,” “Do It Again,” “Gossip,” “Let’s Talk It Over,” “Trouble,” “Cry Out” and “1 Night Only,” would Tha Carter III have been hailed as Wayne’s variation of The Blueprint?
STREETRUNNER was heavily influenced by the soulful samples of The Blueprint, the same way Wayne was influenced by Jay Z’s style of lyricism. In a post-Mannie Fresh era of Wayne's music, no producer brought out the best in Wayne like STREETRUNNER. It's the closest he’s had to a prominent producer/rapper relationship. Wayne reacts differently to his beats; he doesn’t just demolish them but approaches them with far more introspection. Another side of the rapper eater. The Miami producer let me know that he has hope that one day he’ll be able to release a project with Wayne produced entirely by him—a project I would want over ThaCarter V. While he works on making that happen, STREETRUNNER is working with Tacoma, Washington Clemm Rishad, a promising new artist and producer duo.
STREETRUNNER may not be the most widely-known producer, but behind the boards, he’s incredible and has been since his first placement. Hopefully, more people become aware of the music on his SoundCloud and he can get his rightful credit for being the producer who assisted in making some of the best music from Wayne when the then-Best Rapper Alive was in his prime. He deserves to be properly acknowledged within the legacy of Weezy F. Baby.
By Yoh, aka Redbull Yoh, aka @Yoh31.