In the back room of a basement club in Chelsea, past the bouncer who mercifully let me in, through the front door and down the stairs, past the coat check and across the dancefloor and down a narrow hallway, I am standing and staring at Lil Wayne through a very thin, almost transparent curtain. There are models and reporters and bottles of liquor and champagne all around me, and smoke in the air and Lil Wayne music playing over the club’s PA. Lil Wayne is the most popular rapper in America and also my personal hero, and right now he’s standing in the encurtained VIP area of this club because he’s here to promote a new line of skateboarding clothes that he either founded or is endorsing. Lil Wayne is wearing all-white Moon Boots that go up to his knees, which he cutely tucks his pants into, and I am watching him as he raps along to a Drake song and extends his arms and dances, like when someone on the new York Jets scores a touchdown and they run around the field impersonating a plane. I am nearly in heaven.
I put my face up against the curtain, staring at Lil Wayne, waiting until the woman guarding the VIP area deigns to let me in to interview him. Lil Twist sits on a couch behind Lil Wayne, laconically drinking out of either a bottle of clear liquor or an exotic-looking brand of bottled water that I’ve never seen before. I incidentally make eye contact with Lil Twist, and he looks at me suspiciously, so I immediately look away because I don’t want him to think I’m being too lurky and have me kicked out of the club. I wish I could assure him that, although I like his raps, I’m not lurking around the VIP because he’s in it, but that might insult his pride more than it would put him at ease, and he’d have me kicked out. From now on, I’ll just try to avoid looking in Lil Twist’s direction.
Anyway, ten minutes ago when I got here, I knew that telling the woman who is guarding the VIP area that I write a semi-active Tumblr, formerly about an indie music website, probably wouldn’t be the kind of professional credential that would make her want to let me into VIP area to interview the most popular rapper in America, so one of the reporters here, who writes for a famous magazine, volunteered to let me interview Lil Wayne for that magazine. And so now I am temporarily in the unpaid employ of a magazine that would never hire me. When the VIP area guard turns away from me, I comb my hair with my hand to try to get my appearance more closely aligned with my impressive fake credential.
Now Lil Wayne is talking to a man who is probably his lawyer but who I prefer to think of as the 60-year-old, mostly bald, loose-suit-wearing newest member of the Young Money family. Lil Wayne stops rapping along to Drake and leans in to hear what this man is saying because he speaks softly. Obviously I can’t hear what they’re saying from ten feet and a curtain away, but when they’re done talking, Lil Wayne smiles and laughs. This guy is probably Lil Wayne’s new lawyer because on Tha Carter IV’s Nightmares of the Bottom, Wayne says, “If I knew I was going to jail, I would have fucked my attorney.” I think, if Lil Wayne’s new lawyer did his due diligence and listened to the new Lil Wayne album, he must know he’s on thin ice.
Now Lil Wayne has stopped talking to the lawyer and is pogoing in his all-white Moon Boots. He pogoes around the VIP area for a while until, I guess, he gets tired out. Then he drinks some water.
A man comes out from behind the VIP curtain and walks up to me and looks me over and goes, “Is it really that serious, son?” I try to understand what he means, like if it’s an existential question or I have a really serious look on my face that I didn’t realize, but I can’t, so I say, “What do you mean?” He says, “Leanin’ up against the curtain like that? Is it really that serious that you gotta do that?” I show him my Lil Wayne tattoo, my only tattoo, and he looks shocked, and then laughs, and then gives me a high-five that turns into a handshake, and says, “Aight, you aight, I got you,” and then he walks back into the VIP area. I am watching Lil Wayne as he adjusts his fitted cap, which is a whopping size 8 (to accommodate his dreads) and says “Sorry I’m Fresh” in big gold embroidered letters on the front, and “And You’re Not” on the back. A model bumps into me and I mumble an apology, and then she wanders into the VIP area.
Fifteen minutes later it looks like my chance of interviewing Lil Wayne is starting to dwindle. The woman guarding the VIP says that Lil Wayne is taking a break from doing interviews and then I realize the party ends in like twenty minutes. I wonder, “Is Lil Wayne running down the clock on this promotional appearance?” My heart sinks a little and I think about texting my Mom about this near-miss because I’ve spent a lot of plane and car rides trying to get her into Lil Wayne (she likes M.I.A. and one Young Jeezy song), but there’s no service down in this basement so I can’t.
Suddenly, a man emerges from the VIP area and whispers something to the woman guarding it. She looks at me and touches my arm and goes, “Okay, I need you,” and then looks at some reporters from Teen Vogue behind me and says, “And you and you and you,” and then she pulls us all inside the VIP area! I have passed through the pearly gates!!
Now my palms are clammy and my heart is almost racing because Lil Wayne is standing four feet from me as the reporters from Teen Vogue interview him. I turn to my left and Lil Wayne’s manager Cortez Bryant (and co-star of the documentary about Lil Wayne) is standing there, looking me over. He’s wearing small tortoiseshell glasses and we smile at each other and I go, “Hey Cortez! I’m David!” Cortez Bryant smiles and shakes my hand and asks me how I am doing, and I say, “Dude, I don’t even know how to tell you how excited I feel right now.” I want to tell him that it feels like my whole life is building to the moment when I get to interview Lil Wayne, but that seems needlessly dramatic, so I just finish by saying, “I’m pretty nervous.” He understands.
A waiter carrying a tray of pieces of tuna tartare on little toasts comes up to us and a guy standing next to Cortez says to him, “Yo, you gotta try this.” Cortez shakes his head and his friend insists and Cortez jokingly says, “This? Are you settin’ me up?” by which I think he means setting him up to be killed in a poisoned food assassination, so that maybe the other guy could usurp the throne of being Lil Wayne’s manager/confidant, or just setting Cortez up to eat something that tastes weird as a prank. But Cortez acquiesces and eats the tuna. He likes it, and he looks at me expectantly, as if to ask, “Do you want to try one of these tiny tuna steaks too?” but I shake my head. I could never eat a piece of tuna tartare on a little toast at a time like this, lest my breath smell like cat food when I talk to Lil Wayne.
The Teen Vogue reporters finish interviewing him and then it’s my turn. I turn the recorder (that the person from the magazine lent me) on and take two steps towards Lil Wayne. He reaches out and shakes my hand and introduces himself, and I can’t stop smiling, standing there looking down into the face of the greatest rapper to ever do it. His diamond grill is shimmering, he’s covered in tattoos (I wonder if he has any Lil Wayne tattoos? Like how Bukowski used to wear that shirt with a big picture of his own face on it), and his face has even more of that uniquely lizardly quality in person.
I ask, haltingly, “Are you working on Tha Carter V?” Lil Wayne starts saying something and then Cortez Bryant leans in and goes, “Only questions about [the skate clothing brand Lil Wayne is here to promote].” I nod vigorously but Lil Wayne shakes his head, and then Lil Wayne reaches up and puts his arm around me and turns us both around, so we’re not facing Cortez Bryant, and leans towards me and tells me that he’s not working Tha Carter V yet, but that he’s working on something else. Lil Wayne is in open defiance of Cortez Bryant, and on my behalf! I hope this isn’t the straw that breaks the camel’s back of their troubled relationship…
For a second I can’t remember my next question, and Lil Wayne stands there looking expectant, and then thankfully I remember it: “What will you do after rap?” Lil Wayne doesn’t even think about it: “I’m gonna focus on being the best father I can be.” That was an easy one — obviously these aren’t the questions I would personally ask, but I’m here on assignment from a prestigious magazine, so I’m trying to keep it broad.
Then Lil Wayne releases me from the fraternal shoulder hold and I am again facing Cortez Bryant, who I don’t wanna cross twice, so I ask my final, two-part question: “What skate clothes do you wear? Do you wear Supreme?” Supreme is the skate clothing brand popularized nationally by Odd Future last summer, but it was locally very popular for like 15 years before that, including when I was in college and coveted it most. Lil Wayne tells me about how he skated in the big skating bowl inside the Supreme store in LA. I think about showing him this sick polar fleece Supreme hat I have, and maybe seeing if he wants to trade his “Sorry I’m Fresh” hat for my Supreme hat, but I remember I checked my bag and my hat’s in my bag. Crud.
Then I am out of questions! And almost out of time, according to how Cortez Bryant is looking at me. Light glints off of Lil Wayne’s eyebrow ring, and he looks at me and smiles as a Lil Wayne song plays over the club’s PA. I put the recorder down and look at Lil Wayne and say, “I also just wanted to tell you that you really inspire me,” and Lil Wayne smiles, and then I show Lil Wayne my Lil Wayne tattoo, and his eyes widen and he starts grinning and then starts laughing. He reaches out his hand and starts shaking my hand, which I suspect concludes our interview, but then he pulls me in for a hug and hugs me for maybe five seconds, which doesn’t sound like that long but, to put it in perspective, light travels 931,411 miles in five seconds.
He releases me from the hug and I go, “I’m Jewish, so if my Dad knew I had this tattoo, he would kill me!” Lil Wayne laughs again and then says these magical words:
"Yo, we gotta hang out! Why don’t you give my secretary your phone number?"
I nod and Lil Wayne beckons a woman in her mid-twenties, who stands up from the couch she was on, near Lil Twist, and comes over to us and Lil Wayne tells her to put my name and phone number into a Blackberry Bold 9900 that’s maybe Lil Wayne’s phone, which she does.
And then Lil Wayne and I shake hands and say goodbye, and he starts doing another interview as I float through the VIP section, out of the curtains, and over to the bar, where I find K, get myself a glass of champagne and sit down with her on a leather bench in the back of this basement club. I tell her that Lil Wayne asked me for my phone number, and it was like being knighted, finding $20 in the wash, and momentarily reaching that ecstatic peace that monks reach when they meditate for a really long time, all in one.
We reflect on the likelihood of Lil Wayne actually calling me to hang out, and we agree that it’s likelier than The Notorious B.I.G. calling me to hang out, for sure, but probably not by much. I think I am okay with this because, as they say, “It’s an honor just to be nominated (to be an acquaintance of Lil Wayne, possibly as a circuitous way for him to end an interview).” Half an hour later we leave the club and I float down the street in Chelsea, really happy to be in New York for, I guess, and not to end it on too mellow a note, maybe the first time in a long time.
Sent via Blackberry
Update 1/27/12: Still no call, patiently waiting by the phone.
Update 2/2/12: No call, giving up hope.
Update 2/28/12: Got a missed call from an unknown number, assuming it was him. Waiting for call back.