Spending the last few nights in my childhood home has been like entering a museum with walls painted in memories. Even after years of redecoration, the old relics have been unmoved. My Nokia 6030 sits on the dresser, dusty. Just laying eyes on the miniature cell phone is like taking a DeLorean back to Adamson Middle School. Images of eighth grade come flooding back like a mental slideshow. Alongside the phone sits a SanDisk Sansa MP3 player, a tiny device with only 512MB of data. Before ever receiving an iPod and having an abundance of gigabytes, that Sansa provided the bare minimum amount of space for songs to be carried from my home into the outside world.
No matter the unlimited number of songs made available through Limewire, there were only so many that could fit on a blank disc, and only a handful more that could fit on the Sansa. Those were the days of selectivity, of hard decisions that children today don't need to contemplate with their iPhones and Androids.
Only one project released during that time was both burnt to disc and downloaded to my MP3 player: Lil Wayne’s Dedication 2.
Mixtapes weren’t held in the same esteem as albums, so in turn, I didn't view them with the same reverence. I overlooked Jeezy’s Trap or Die, but didn’t hesitate to purchase Thug Motivation 101. T.I.’s Down With the King was deemed only an appetizer predating the main feast, Urban Legend, his third studio album.
I viewed music with the eyes of Allen Iverson—I’m showing up for games, not practice. Which is why Dedication 2 stunned me; the music was somehow more enthralling than what Wayne produced on Tha Carter II, an album released seven months prior to his second Gangsta Grillz outing.
It was my brother who bought Tha Carter II and burnt Dedication 2. I would go into his CD case and always take C2. I have long considered the album to be Wayne’s best. Not the biggest, or the most culturally significant, but best. How can it not be with an intro like “Tha Mobb,” featuring a five minute Wayne rampage that would shake even the Hulk into hiding within Bruce Banner?
With “Money On My Mind,” “Fireman,” “Hustler Muzik,” “Receipt," as well as the very underrated “Feel Me” and “Grown Man,” I was completely content with the second installment of Wayne’s Carter series, but one day my brother recommended I give the Gangsta Grillz tape a listen. Trusting the wisdom of my oldest sibling, I put the disc into my CD player and was instantly struck by how the same artist could also be such a completely different beast.
Dedication 2 is Weezy unleashed, a monster who only knew to destroy and devour, a terminator programmed to torch beats with the flamethrower installed in his vocal chords. On “Get 'Em,” DJ Drama plays a vocal sample that says, “You are watching a master at work,” and for 81 straight minutes, that’s exactly what’s put on display—a master at work.
What DJ Drama and the Gangsta Grillz series provided rappers was a space to be unbound by the confining boxes that come with albums released through major labels. This freedom worked well with Wayne’s style; the potency of his stream-of-consciousness reached it’s maximum potential when he blitzed beats like linemen rushing the quarterback.
“Spitter,” one of the many highlights on D2, showcases Wayne as a solar flare of explosive brilliance. His flow is flawless, his imagery vivid, and his lyricism unpredictable. These moments exist across Tha Carter II, but not throughout its entirety. It's a stark comparison to the mixtape, in which there are no breaks or stops from the rushing roller coaster that is Wayne’s verbose performance.
The Dedication series and the idea of Mixtape Wayne was built upon the template exhibited throughout D2. It’s possible to retrace his steps even further back in his catalog and see the seeds planted during the Sqad Up mixtapes, The Prefix, The Suffix, and of course, the original Dedication, but Wayne doesn’t truly blossom until the 2006 mixtape. Tha Carter II was well-received, both critically and commercially, but it was Wayne's all-out assault on his peer's best beats that helped him catapult into crossover superstardom. He made his shine brighter by hijacking the spotlights of others.
In retrospect, Dedication 2's production has turned the acclaimed mixtape into a museum of nostalgia. To press play is to hear Wayne’s atomic attack across Dem Franchize Boyz' “I Think They Like Me,” JAY-Z's "The Game Iz Mine," T.I.’s “What You Know,” Little Brother’s “Lovin' It,” Ludacris' “Georgia,” and Tupac’s “Ambitionz Az a Ridah.”
The diversity of the beat selections is what I miss about the early Gangsta Grillz mixtapes. It wasn’t just hearing Wayne over the most popular hits, but a thoughtful, diverse mix. Before being featured on Little Brother's "Breakin' My Heart," Dedication 2 is where you first heard Wayne over a soulful loop by 9th Wonder. It's the only mixtape where you could hear both JAY-Z's "Dynasty (Intro)" and Shawnna's "Gettin' Some." It gave us the cultural joy of a New Orleans native putting a modern spin on UNLV’s “Don't U Be Greedy.” 2018's Dedication 6: Reloaded is filled with moments that showcase Wayne’s lyrical prowess, but he’s no longer showcasing the same range as he did in the series' second installment.
It’s been 12 years since Dedication 2. The anniversary was celebrated a few days ago. Similar to being back in my mother’s home, Dedication 2 contains joyous memories of a better time. Back when Wayne was entering a legendary zone, the very zone that would lead to the excitement surrounding Tha Carter III; back before the raid that forever changed DJ Drama, Don Cannon, and the Gangsta Grillz movement; back when we had cell phones that weren’t the size of miniature flat screens, and MP3 players meant we could only carry music that we loved dearly.
Nostalgia is often abused in the form of terrible reboots and unwanted sequels, but when the feeling comes untainted, it’s the best time machine a man can afford.
By Yoh, aka Tha Carter Yoh aka @Yoh31.