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NGZ 20 Year Anniversary Series: Lil Wayne – Tha Block Is Hot

Lengthy backstory aside, it’s amazing to reflect on what Lil Wayne has accomplished since Tha Block Is Hot hit stores 20 years ago, especially when considering who he was in 1999. Cash Money was the hot new label in hip hop, yes, but the artist formerly known as Baby D was arguably the 4th biggest star in his own camp.

Juvenile reigned supreme, B.G. was the anchor and The Big Tymers really did have “the rap game on lock.” A few scene-stealing spots on Back That Azz Up and Bling Bling changed it all though. You could see Bryan “Baby” Williams’ focus shifting towards grooming Wayne into the future of the company. And it all officially began with 1999’s Tha Block Is Hot. Today, Newtral Groundz celebrates 20 years of Weezy’s genesis project.

The customary Big Tymers’ Intro is exactly what’s to be expected at this stage in Cash Money’s run – two minutes of Stunna talk, sprinkled with some classic Fresh humor over an appetizer of an instrumental. The album’s eponymous song is the lead single and it is a problem. Mannie Fresh serves up what could be considered his hardest beat of the year for Wayne to bob and weave over. Although not quite as confident yet vocally, Weezy’s high-energy delivery goes the distance with this brilliant production and remained his signature solo for years.

Loud Pipes is the lengthy posse cut dedicated to the excesses of the player’s life. Wayne undoubtedly offers the best verse here but Juve’s hook isn’t his strongest and Fresh’ horn-driven production is a bit stale by his standards. If Loud Pipes felt underwhelming, Watcha Wanna Do immediately makes up for it with haunting strings and an infectious bass line. Oh yeah, Wayne murders it too:

“Lil soulja in all black, off of A&E…
Apple & Eagle, my nigga, so ain’t no playing me…
Yeah, I may-be a lil small and all that…
But I’m bout war and tote the gat, flip ya car and all that…”

Kisha is another of Tha Block Is Hot’s high points. Fresh’ production is dark and every last one of The Hot Boys delivers perfect 16s about a “dog ass hoe” that manages to “fuck the whole Cash Money click all in one night.” Their chemistry is undeniable. Flossin’ has always been the Cash Money way but with the success of Bling Bling, the demand for those iced out pop songs was at an all time high. High Beamin attempts to recreate its magic but lacks staying power. And Lights Off is bolstered by Fresh’ breezy guitar licks but feels boring, with Wayne offering the minimum on the mic. Fuck The World on the other hand might be the most vulnerable song CMR had released to date at that point. Persevering piano keys create a somber atmosphere for a teenage Weezy to share his struggles – struggles most 17 year olds can’t fathom going through:

“Look, I don’t curse but in this verse, man fuck the world…
I lost my father to the gun and made a lil girl…
And I’m still thuggin’ with my niggas, tryna keep it real…
And I’m still doing for my mother and I’m paying bills…”

Remember Me reunites The B.G.’z over a frenetic Fresh track. Wayne brings the heat and Geezy, championing Wayne as the future, sounds like a proud big brother throughout. Juvenile pops back up for Respect Us, a song that feels like an updated spin on 400 Degreez’ Follow Me Now. It reels you in initially but becomes a little too “Marc Anthony” after a few listens. And speaking of 400 Degreez, Back That Azz Up was still very much a club staple at the time Tha Block Is Hot was released and Drop It Like It’s Hot clearly took notice. Weezy builds his memorable “drop, drop, drop, drop it like it’s hot” catchphrase into a respectable follow up to the ultimate twerk anthem.

Young Playa features the Big Tymers and thumping four-on-the-floor production. The groove is undeniable but the song never really gets off its feet. Enemy Turf picks it right back up though with a classic Juvenile collaboration. A richly-layered instrumental acts as the foundation for what might be the duo’s most impressive offering. The spacey Not Like Me also impresses with its light, Caribbean chorus and strong performances from Wayne and Baby (yeah, he actually did his thing here).

Come Up is a fun, bouncy record that again features The B.G.’z and quite honestly could’ve been a solid single. This still gets play on a sunny day with the windows down. Wayne touches on the sudden death of his first real father figure, Reginald “Rabbit” McDonald, with the sincere Up To Me. You can hear the pain in his voice as he pens an open letter to heaven. You Want War, with its gliding horns, closes the album but not in spectacular fashion. There’s not much substance and it could’ve used more focus from Wayne and energy from Turk.

If you’re diving into Tha Block Is Hot with the hopes of discovering new punchlines and that seasoned mic presence we’ve all come to love, you’re looking in the wrong area. This (again, his first album) was crafted when Lil Wayne was 16-17 years old and can’t be expected to be at the level of a Tha Carter or Tha Carter II. Here, you have a charismatic young rapper still very much trying to find his comfort zone early on in his career; it feels more like Guerrilla Warfare Part 2 than 500 Degreez. Where Tha Block Is Hot delivers, however, is in providing that signature late 90’s Cash Money sound with the dynasty still in tact. It may not be his strongest effort but remains a fun time capsule to revisit.

Overall Vibes: 7.3/10


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