When Lil Wayne’s last album, Tha Carter V, came out, it was no surprise that its tracks were culled from a wide variety of sessions, producers, and even eras. Originally planned for a 2014 release, the album didn’t arrive until late 2018 due to a dispute between Wayne and his longtime label, Cash Money Records. Wayne spent the interim continuously cutting material for the album, to the degree that Tha Carter V’s eventual tracklist contained five-year-old songs alongside week-old ones, as Rolling Stone reported.
Wayne’s new album, Funeral, endured no such publicized delays, having been announced just nine days before its January 31st release. Despite that, the tracklist shares a certain cobbled-together quality with its predecessor. The title track, which kicks off the album, is based around the skeleton of a beat from 2013, while the newest tracks are less than a year old. The production credits are similarly wide-reaching, including the guy who produced the entirety of Wayne’s 1999 debut (Mannie Fresh), as well as a few young beatmakers getting their first major placement. GQ spoke with seven of Funeral’s producers (or in some cases, production duos) about the wildly different paths their beats took to getting placed on Funeral.
“Lil Wayne mentioned in a recent interview that he doesn't always know whose beat he's rapping on,” says Smurv, who co-produced album track “Darkside” with his friend B Ham. “I'm one of those people. He has no idea who I am—yet.” That tracks with what we know about Wayne’s blissfully ignorant approach to modern hip hop—a few years back, he claimed he didn’t know who Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, 21 Savage, or Kodak Black were, and during an interview last week, he acted like he’d never heard the names of two of the most successful modern labels in hip hop, Quality Control and Top Dawg Entertainment.
For every tight-knit collaborative release between one producer and one rapper—think Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, or 03 Greedo and Kenny Beats—there’s 20 albums with production credits that read like a phone book and sessions that consist of a studio engineer pulling up beats from email. Wayne’s connection (or lack thereof) to his producers seems even more postmodern. Of the seven producers we interviewed, only two have ever met Wayne in person, and most have only made contact with his camp via Cash Money A&R Josh Berkman.
“Josh was really the champion in placing the record,” says Bijan Amir, who produced “Bing James,” a song that funnily enough features Top Dawg Entertainment rapper Jay Rock. “We met in LA after my publisher set up a meeting, where my manager and myself went and played him beats and explained the personal importance for me to get a Wayne cut.” Berkman (who could not be reached for comment) is the fairy godmother in many of these stories, appearing out of the blue to request beat packs from under-the-radar producers. Some of them are best known for the “type beats” they post on YouTube. Many are shocked to be invited to work on a Lil Wayne album.
“Stop Playin with Me” co-producer Chill Shump hails from New Britain, Connecticut, where, he says, the “music market isn’t that great.” In 2018, he produced the song “Yank Riddim” for local rapper Snow, which became a regional hit and later garnered a popular remix from Young M.A. Even with that song setting “a light under [his] name,” he was surprised when Lil Wayne recorded something over a beat from an unsolicited pack that he sent to Berkman. “I've done that a million times and gotten very little benefit off of it,” he says. “There have been many times where I sent beat packs off to labels, and maybe they grabbed something and maybe they didn't. Majority of the time, they really didn't. So when I heard Lil Wayne did something off of it, I was shocked.”
Shump also didn’t expect Wayne to pick the track that he did: “I knew it was a dope one, but I didn't think that this would be the one. We're more used to Weezy getting on more live, uptempo, trappy type shit. My vibe is more hard, East Coast-favored, crucial, punchy drums. So just to hear that he actually did some shit on that type of beat… We all know how versatile Weezy is, but I haven't heard that Weezy in a long time.”
Wayne’s versatility is one of the defining factors of Funeral—directly after the East Coast slap of “Stop Playin with Me” comes the distinctive bounce music sound of his New Orleans hometown on “Clap For Em,” followed by the woozy trap Bijan Amir cooked up for “Bing James.” But the album’s most striking moment, sonically, comes from “Mama Mia,” a song produced by duo Some Randoms, whose resumé includes tracks by Trey Songz, Kehlani, and… Meghan Trainor? “That beat is jarring and unsettling, and we didn't know who to send that to… We kind of made it just for us,” says the duo’s Matt Campfield. He and partner Danny Klein made the metallic, cacophonous, vaguely dubsteppy beat after a recording session two or three years ago, “just to stay inspired,” says Klein. “We don't normally sit on beats, but we definitely sat on that one,” he continues. “It was waiting for the right moment.” Campfield adds, “Josh [Berkman] was just like, 'Send me anything.' And we were just like, 'It's Lil Wayne. Fuck it.'”
“Mama Mia” may have languished on the shelf for a while, but it’s nothing compared to Funeral’s title track. Kamo Beatz (whose most viewed video on YouTube is a “Drake Lil Wayne type beat”) and his collaborator R!O originally made the dramatic album opener in 2013. “I think I was making the original beat with Meek Mill in mind,” says Kamo, who was in sessions for the Philadelphia rapper’s album (ostensibly 2013’s Dreams & Nightmares 3) at the time. A later version added strings, but the beat still predates the work he and R!O did on three intervening Lil Wayne projects: Free Weezy Album (2015), Dedication 6: Reloaded (2018), and Tha Carter V (2018). Kamo’s statement echoes something fellow Wayne producer Ben Billions said in that aforementioned Rolling Stone article about the protracted Carter V sessions: “A lot of times it’s just [a matter of] changing kicks and snares to make sure it’s not 2012, it’s 2018.”
At the center of all this chaos is Lil Wayne’s famously furious recording pace, necessitating the mountains of beats that Berkman fields and frantic, last-minute updates. This should be old news to any Wayne fan who spent the months leading up to 2008’s Tha Carter III scouring Limewire for the “official” album among a sea of slightly altered tracklists. More often than not, Wayne’s producers are in the dark as long as the rest of us. Smurv’s lawyer texted him about “Darkside” “a little over 24 hours before the release of the album.” Duo Monsta Beatz, who’ve worked with Wayne for over a decade and produced two tracks on Funeral, say they got confirmation three weeks ago, but add over email that it was “still a surprise though, [Wayne] records so much music so ya never know what’s gonna go on there.”
But no producer’s story better illustrates the Lil Wayne album construction process than that of Sarcastic Sounds, a producer whose YouTube channel is filled with “type beats” and who wound up in sessions with Mannie Fresh after the go-to Cash Money soundsmith took a liking to a beat Sounds played at the Battle of the Beatmakers competition in 2018. That beat, as it so happens, would form the backbone of Funeral’s “Mahogany.” Despite clocking time with Fresh and creating the bulk of the album’s second track, Sounds had basically the same experience as every other Wayne fan on release night, albeit with a little more payoff. “On release day, literally like three hours before the album dropped, [Mannie Fresh’s rep] called me to tell me I made the album,” he says. Sounds waited anxiously like the rest of us for confirmation. “I was obviously super excited, but I still didn't 100% believe it until the album leaked on YouTube at like 12, and I found a livestream of the album that included ‘Mahogany.’ Even after that, I was up all night, waiting until the album officially dropped.”
Originally Appeared on GQ