At this point in his career, Lil Wayne has proven everything there is to prove and can get away with whatever he wants (like recording a rock album, #neverforget). This current stage of his career feels particularly like a victory lap; in the wake of Weezy’s long-anticipated resolution of the debacle with his father figure Birdman and Cash Money records, last year the world finally received what it had waited years for — the fifth installment of Tha Carter.
It’s impossible to argue that Tha Carter is anything other than one of the most iconic series of albums in hip-hop history, but what about Wayne’s just as iconic series of mixtapes? Both Da Drought and Dedication can claim the top spot of that title, but in this day in age, when the vast majority of people consume music through streaming services, mixtapes tend to be overlooked and forgotten, as it can be quite a tumultuous process for them to be added to streaming services due to possible copyright issues.
Even if the world of mixtapes will vanish into oblivion for generations to come, we’ll still have the unparalleled run of the medium that Weezy executed across two decades. So without further ado, we present a definitive ranking of Lil Wayne’s mixtapes, tallied from worst to best.
Editor’s Note: ‘SQ’ 1-7, ‘T-Wayne,’ ‘Young Money the Mixtape,’ ‘Blow,’ & ‘ColleGrove’ aren’t included as they are collaborative projects.
18. ‘The Carter Files’ (2006)
The Wayne train was in full motion circa 2006, fueled by a compilation of leftover tracks from Tha Carter III brought to us by New Orleanian and former Weezy collaborator DJ Raj Smoove. This tape is reminiscent of the days when gangsta rap was the primary sound of mainstream hip-hop, before the crown was slowly but surely usurped by backpack rappers. Despite some of the songs sounding like they were recorded on a webcam in a hotel bathroom, this leftover dish still packs some flavor 13 years after it was released, but luckily for us, this was still just an appetizer.
17. ‘Dedication 3’ (2008)
This tape can signify the beginning of Weezy’s era of auto-tune abuse. Even if D3 doesn’t scratch the itch for a hard-bodied flow or killer double entendres, it’s packed with hilarious skits and features from Nicki Minaj and Drake, among other upcoming acts of the era. Unfortunately, the mixtape hasn’t aged well. Later in his career Wayne would master a quick transition from staccato to melodic deliveries in the span of a single bar, for which we thank him, because the world is too small for it to have two T-Pains.
16. ‘Da Drought 2’ (2004)
Unlike the rest of the series, Da Drought 2 packs an equal amount of good and not-so-enjoyable songs, which happened to be the same tracks where we don’t hear the Martian at all. Where present, his presence is well appreciated, but sadly, it isn’t frequent.
15. ‘The Prefix’ (2004)
Significant improvement of his lyrical abilities sets Wayne on a further path of stardom and towards the title of the best rapper of his time, if not of all time, on this enjoyably solid early outing. It’s no secret that Hov is Weezy’s biggest influence when it comes to lyrics (to the point where Wayne has one of the Brooklyn MC’s verses tattooed on his leg). Despite being rated low in this ranking, by no means is this an unsavory tape, it’s just that Lil Wayne has much more to offer than one of his earliest mixtapes. Mildly entertaining fact: A few years later, Kendrick would drop a whole mixtape recorded over the beats used by Lil Wayne on The Prefix. Let’s hope that once JAY-Z drops a Kendrick-inspired tape, the GOAT circle will come into closure resulting in Biggie and Pac’s resurrection.
14. ‘No Ceilings’ (2009)
This is one of the most popular releases by Wayne, but it might only be because it dropped during the zenith of his popularity. No Ceilings still bumps, it just didn’t bring anything new to the table. Same ol’ same ol’ Tha Carter III-era Weezy. It slaps, but doesn’t pack much to stand out from the rest of the list.
13. ‘Sorry 4 the Wait 2’ (2013)
Wayne had asked for forgiveness, and Wayne received it, as he polished pretty much every beat that was popping at that time. This project signifies the rise of the older, more mature Weezy, who effortlessly aces mixing bouncy and melodic flows. Roughly 15 years after his rise to stardom, the Young Money general was still able to impress with what was supposed to be an appetizer for Tha Carter V.
12. ‘Lil Weezy Ana’ (2006)
Composed and released by Raj Smoove, Weezy’s affiliate from Tha Carter I days, this tape has quite an accurate name to it as it bleeds Louisiana, mostly because of the amount of guest features from local artists, which include pre-Pilot Talk Curren$y, Mack Maine and Raw Dizzy. Wayne’s flow on “Famous” accurately shows where he was at lyrically. Unfortunately, just like with Da Drought 2, we don’t hear as much Wayne on this release compared to other projects, but we can spot a rare occurrence of an act known as 2 Chainz, who was still performing under the moniker Tity Boi and was a part of Playaz Circle.
11. ‘Da Drought’ (2003)
The Da Drought series was brought to listeners’ ears by none other than DJ Khaled, when fans were fiending for new music from the New Orleanian. It’s notably the point of origin for the running line “Weezy F. Baby,” where the “F” was “for us to find out.” On this tape, Wayne greatly improved his staccato-oriented delivery, resulting in a bouncier flow for our delight, showing that Lil Wayne at his best is Lil Wayne having fun.
10. ‘Dedication 5’ (2012)
Five tapes later, and the dedication is still heavy. When asked what dedication is to him, the Big Easy MC replied with “Say things that I wouldn’t say on my album” and “Get on the shit and get crazy.” He definitely backed both of those statements up, as the large amount of romantically vulgar punchlines and references to mind-altering chemicals have proven to be his go-to topics for the better part of this decade. While not exactly fresh now, it was a whole new chapter in the book of Wayne.
9. ‘The W. Carter Collection’ 1 & 2 (2006)
Hosted by frequent DJ Jazzy Jeff collaborator Mick Boogie, both W volumes were part of the promotional launch of Lil Wayne’s Reebok sneaker collaboration. The OG Mid silhouette might have moved some units, but not enough to compete with the reach of The W. Carter Collection. Once again, this was a major nod to the move JAY-Z had pulled three years earlier when launching his own line with Reebok accompanied by a release of a mixtape dubbed The S. Carter Collection. The assemblage is soaked in the influence of the sound of the Big Apple, such as guest verses from the rapper’s rapper’s rapper Rakim, Busta Rhymes, and a ton of Dipset features, as well as dozens of references to the other Mr. Carter. From such lines as “I love a blowjob, I need an employer” to the rhymes galore on all three parts of “16 Bars,” the collections pack paramount material when it comes to ace Weezy lyrics.
8. ‘Dedication 4’ (2011)
What’s more hip-hop than changing something that already exists and adding your own twist to it to make it special? If you know the answer, then let’s call Mr. Carter the DJ Kool Herc of spitters. “Money change me – making chameleons” is just a tip of the lyrical iceberg floating in the ocean of unforgettable bars. The pure existence of D4 makes any mediocre releases from the rapper excusable.
7. ‘No Ceilings 2’ (2015)
This tape’s foundation lies in promising a new sound (for the time) mixed with more familiar, yet much more versatile, flow and wordplay. Clearly a worthy, if not a superior, follow-up to the previous release, No Ceilings 2 dropped at a time when the world was dying for Tha Carter V, and it offered a system of life support akin to Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit. This tape is an embodiment of how well Lil Wayne can stay relevant.
6. ‘Sorry 4 the Wait’ (2011)
“Tunechi’s back!” declared the MC as he impenitently unwrapped this 12-track apology to his fans for the untimely release of one of his most monumental bodies of work, Tha Carter 4. Just like a majority of the tapes on this list, this was the sound of the zeitgeist at the time, where every rather ephemeral beat is laced with timeless bars. Conclusively, Big Wayne’s take on Adele’s monster hit “Rolling in the Deep” actually brought something new to the table, all it took was sprinkling some Weezy magic on it.
5. ‘Dedication 6’ & ‘D6: Reloaded’ (2017)
If you weren’t satisfied with Tha Carter V, this is a worthy consolation prize. This is the crème de la crème of the post-Cash Money Wayne; highly recommended to younger listeners who want to enter Wayne’s World. One of the highlights of the tape is a feature from Juelz Santana, especially for those who are still waiting for their collaborative project, which at this point in time has gained a Detox-level of mysticism.
4. ‘The Suffix’ (2005)
Sound-wise, this tape signifies the birth of the modern day Weezy, who seriously 1-up’d his lyrical game compared to previous releases by expanding the topics of his bars. The Suffix shows the rapper from different perspectives narrated by the content of his sentences, varying from a stupendously braggadocios gangsta rapper to a profound and sensual young star who was just getting into sipping lean.
3. ‘The Dedication’ (2005)
“We call this a dedication cause we dedicating this to everybody around the world, man, everybody who could relate around the world, especially this is a dedication to the fallen soldiers and speaking of the fallen soldiers, we must say that this is a dedication to my homeboys” explains Weezy as he opens the curtain on the epochal series of projects, narrated by who else but Philly’s infamous shit talker DJ Drama. As per usual, Wayne showcased his growth as the GOAT, and even dropped some gems on us. Weezy said he was really close to signing to JAY-Z and Roc-a-Fella records after receiving a convincing call from the Brooklynite. If only his loyalty to Birdman hadn’t stopped him…
2. ‘Dedication 2’ (2006)
D2 kicks off with a Dipset beat, serving as a handshake between Hollygrove and Harlem. It might be his best tape when it comes to the quality of guest verses, varying from Wayne’s old roadies and fellow New Orleanians Curren$y & Mack Maine, as well as Juelz Santana in his heyday. When asked about dedication for yet another time on one of the project’s numerous skits, Mr. Carter replied with “… as far as this rap thing, I think I am better than everybody. I’m a competitor, I hope everybody else feels the same way about their craft… if you do it makes it better for the people, it makes it better for the listeners dawg.” — to which we couldn’t agree more.
1. ‘Da Drought 3’ (2007)
Da Drought 3 was so good that Rolling Stone counted it as an album, just so they could feature it on their list of top projects of that year. It has all the necessary components of what makes a Weezy mixtape, from the early days of Birdman Jr’s Blood affiliation, to Nicki Minaj’s early appearances, homages to Jiggaman, guest appearances from Curren$y, sophisticated delivery and hard-punching bars from outside of this world, all multiplied by two. Pure crack.