Don’t Compare Lil Wayne to Elvis Presley

September 28th, 2012

(Photos from left: Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Caesars Entertainment, CBS /Landov)

By Gee King

There is no arguing that Lil Wayne accomplished a huge feat earlier this week when he broke Elvis’s record of 108 Billboard hits. But the means by which Weezy broke the mark, mostly posse cuts and remixes (only 42 of Wayne’s 109 hits were solo), are causing some to question the merit of his achievement when compared to the legacy of the late Mr. Presley.

While Elvis set the gold standard for success on the Billboard charts with an unprecedented string of solo hits from 1958 to 2003, Wayne was able to surpass his record in much less time and, as many would argue, with much less creative effort. But judging Wayne by Elvis’s standards is pointless when you consider the differences in era and genre that allowed both to do what they did. Popular artists are, inescapably, products of their time. The era that created Elvis was technologically and culturally ancient compared to the one that created Wayne, making attempts to discredit the Young Money MC’s legacy shortsighted and illogical.

The Billboard charts began tracking singles in 1958, just as Elvis Presley was entering the prime of his career. He’d already landed 31 hits on the pre-Hot 100 chart by then and was well on his way to enjoying one of the most celebrated runs in music history. But the period in time that created Elvis had its own imperfections, ones that played every bit as much into his success as the imperfect realities of our world have Wayne’s. Racially segregated airwaves, payola and lack of competition helped pave Presley’s way to the top. As easy at it seemed for Wayne to drop a guest 16 bars on every single he was offered, he has also managed to remain relevant in a time of short attention spans and globalized culture. When compared to Presley, who had the advantage of being heavily influenced by Black artists of the time without having to compete with them on the charts, Wayne’s success is not the joke that some are making it out to be.

We should applaud Wayne’s milestone because he made the best out of what he was given. But we should also consider all of his circumstances to truly understand the legacy he is leaving. For example, how do Wayne’s 109 singles stack up next to Jay-Z’s 11 number one solo albums? The difference of quantity and quality has long been a point of difference between the two king MCs, but the numbers prove what we’ve all been observing. While they’ve clashed in the past over the title of Best Rapper Alive, their massive accomplishments prove that they were never truly in competition to begin with. How one defines and measures an MC is subjective, and both Jay and Wayne have defined themselves in very different ways. While it’s clear that Jay values the artistic achievement of a complete body of work, Wayne seems to only be concerned with having the hottest verse on the hottest song. Both made their goals clear, and the numbers clearly show that they have succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

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