Lil Wayne: The Best Rapper Alive

How Lil Wayne gave away his songs and got paid back a million times over. Hint: he's good

Lil Wayne has a smoke-scarred rasp that makes him sound like Redd Foxx covering Bob Dylan. It's hardly the voice you'd expect from a 25-year-old rap star, but then, it's been a busy 25 years.

Born Dwayne Carter Jr. and raised in Hollygrove, a New Orleans neighborhood famous for producing soul singers, Wayne signed his first deal at age 11 after rhyming on a record executive's answering machine. At 12, he distinguished himself by starring as the Tin Man in his gifted middle school's production of The Wiz--and by accidentally shooting himself in the chest with a .44-cal. while imitating Travis...

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