"Bling Bling" Was Just the Best Thing Ever
The song isn't just Lil Wayne's breakout moment; it's also a foundational part of rap itself.
Day 363: "Bling Bling (Radio Edit)" feat. Lil Wayne, Juvenile, and Big Tymers – B.G., Chopper City in the Ghetto , 1999
"By the year 2000, Lil Wayne gon' tear this game up," Baby warns, editing his verse for the radio version to set up the next verse. And then, sure enough, there's Wayne, doing your main lady in a blue Navigat-ey.
What else is there to say about "Bling Bling" that hasn't already been said? It is the foundational creed of Cash Money Records, an orienting landmark for rap itself. When people who don't know a single thing about rap start describing rappers, they invariably drop the word "bling" because it is a thing rappers say. The word made it into the dictionary. "Bling Bling" is the song that transformed Lil Wayne from Hot Boy to hot, boy.
"I didn't know it was gonna be as big," Turk told me earlier this year. "Nobody did. It just was something that we did. And, man, that song really crossed Wayne over. And had people wondering who was Wayne." Turk should know better than anyone: His verse was replaced by Wayne's for the radio edit, which was the version that blew up.
"They had this thing, like, if you don't do it somebody else gonna fill your place," Turk explained. "I remember being in the projects, man, I was getting loaded, it was raining that day, so I ain't ever think I was gonna have to get called to the studio or nothing. And got that phone call, and I was so high to the point that I ain't want to go in front of them… Wayne happened to be in the studio while everybody was doing their radio versions. I ain't answer my phone, and they wind up letting Wayne do his part."
Fate works in unexpected ways. It's never clear how one song might alter history. It just happens. Wayne became the child phenom: not just the kid who could rap circles around people twice his age but also the embodiment of rap's flashy lifestyle. His pinky ring was worth 50 grand, his cars all had Lorenzo rims and Yokohama tires. Every time he came around the city: bling bling! The hook was enough to make him a hit; the verse made him a sensation.
We listen to music for many reasons, but one big reason is because we like to hear songs that make us feel good. And how could anyone not feel awesome as hell listening to "Bling Bling"? This is the platonic ideal of rap music about gleeful excess. It has none of the lush, pillowy comforts of modern luxury rap of the Rick Ross thread count linen school; Mannie Fresh's beat is all eerily dry, laser-like synths. It's weird and almost abrasive, futuristic and gritty at the same time. Many of the lines are clumsily rapped, spilling over the edges of the beat. Juvenile's verse is enunciated like he's just slurped down a bowl of alphabet soup. Baby raps that the Cash Money motto is "drink 'til you throw up." B.G.'s chain isn't just expensive; it's so painfully bright that girls have to wear sunglasses to stand next to him. It's perfect that the song's enduring image, from the video, is of a helicopter set against a hazy sky; this is expensive shit, but it's not soft. That's what rap about taking over the world should feel like. Hell, it's what the best of it still does feel like. You can trace a straight line from this song to the current biggest rap song in the country, Cardi B's "Bodak Yellow."
The Lil Wayne of later years stands out for wordplay and dominates tracks with his confidence. But Hot Boy Wayne is great because he always seems focused on wringing as much out of simple syllable sounds as possible. For instance, check out the economy of, "Drop tops when it's hot / stretch Hummers when it's not / light up the whole block when / you glance at my watch." That's tight and straightforward. It's a microcosm of what makes this song perfect, what makes Cash Money so enjoyable as a musical project. It's not trying to change the world. It's just trying to sound cool. Lil Wayne knows it, too. He closes his verse with all the summary you would ever need, "Tattoos and fast cars, do you know who we are? / I'm Lil' Weezy puttin' down for C.M.R." And guess what? This song? Well, it changed the world anyway.
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