Lil Wayne: Photos From the Billboard Cover Shoot

Five years ago, Lil Wayne sat down in his Miami recording studio and spoke in depth with Billboard for the first time in almost a decade. The trailblazing rapper and entrepreneur stood at a crossroads: On the verge of releasing what he had declared would be his final album, Tha Carter V, he had finally settled the three-year lawsuit against his former label Cash Money that had delayed the project’s release and just been awarded sole ownership of the Young Money imprint he had launched in 2003.

So as Aug. 11 — the 50th anniversary of hip-hop — fast approaches alongside Young Money’s own 20th birthday, it’s fitting to be sitting down with Lil Wayne once again. One of the genre’s most innovative and still influential artists, the 40-year-old Louisianian occupies a unique vantage point, forged during a now nearly 30-year journey that began in 1997 with the New Orleans group Hot Boys and soon grew into a multimillion-selling solo career. And that’s not counting the still-growing list of hit collaborations he’s had with a diverse array of fellow hip-hop and R&B artists — including Drake, Nicki Minaj, Future, 2 Chainz, Chris Brown, Mary J. Blige and Lil Baby — as well as other intrepid pairings with artists up and down the genre aisles: Madonna, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Imagine Dragons, Fall Out Boy, Romeo Santos and Shakira, among others. In the course of hip-hop’s own evolution, Wayne’s career is a bridge between then and now, between the genre’s storied, hard-won past and its next-gen, global future.

Read the full Lil Wayne cover story here.