We cite Lil Wayne as a prototype of this decade’s current sound, and with good reason. Wayne, 36, has profoundly influenced countless prolific artists, including Kendrick Lamar and Young Thug (who themselves have inspired myriad imitators), weaving his sound and style into the very fabric of pop culture.
The way Wayne distorts his delivery with vocal effects and slurs his words, often making them hard to discern, enables the New Orleans native to manipulate language to a higher degree. So while Wayne’s articulation may not be his strength, it’s precisely the reason why he’s able to rhyme the way he does.
To see this approach put into practice, let’s breakdown his opening verse on “Dedicate,” a standout selection from 2018’s Tha Carter V:
Some takeaways from Lil Wayne’s “Dedicate” verse above:
- The verse is 13 bars long and contains 221 words, or 17 words per bar
- 131 of those 221 words are unique, or 59.3%
- 143 of those 221 words include significant rhymes, which is 64.7% or 11 words per bar
- With 158 significant rhymes, Wayne averages 12.15 rhymes per bar
As with ScHoolboy Q’s rhyme scheme on “Numb Numb Juice,” all the words in Wayne’s verse are either single syllable or disyllabic words, except for trisyllabic “Bugatti.” This word choice allows Wayne to include more words per line, as well as imbuing the verse with fluidity and rhythm, which are both pleasant to the ear.
What stands out about the former is the way Wayne employs the “u” or “ou” sound. In fact, throughout the first six lines, which total 99 words, 53 of the 117 syllables are variations of the “u” sound. That’s 45 percent. What makes this even more impressive is how Wayne maintains multiple rhyme groupings while keeping his tangents. Take the opening couplet, for instance.
As the red superscript above indicates, Wayne constructs four prominent rhyme groupings. Note the way he positions his double-u grouping—or group four—on each offbeat.
Then, for the following couplet, Wayne creates a four-syllable grouping that he uses five times over for lines three and four.
Circling back to the way Wayne’s articulation, or lack thereof, allows him to manipulate language, let’s look at the way he delivers the line:
The thread of this line is the three-syllable multi, depicted above in red, cyan and magenta, in that order. Not only does Wayne distort the word “dyin’” so it shares the same vowel sound with “con,” but he also pronounces it in such a way that that it’s one syllable, rather than two.
A rhyming dictionary cannot replicate this kind of rhyming. Wayne’s an MC, and the ‘MC’ stands for masterful craftsman.