Beyoncé and Destiny's Child Changed Lil Wayne's Life with “Soldier”
“That song right there, that verse, them little eight bars right there—that got me there.”
Day 359: "Soldier" feat. T.I. and Lil Wayne – Destiny's Child, Destiny Fulfilled, 2004
Q: Why did it feel so right?
While that exchange could have happened just about anywhere, at just about any time, and been topical, one particular place and time that it happened was in Elliott Wilson's keynote interview with Lil Wayne at SXSW in 2014. They were talking about—what else—Destiny's Child and "Soldier."
"Soldier" was widely heralded as the highlight of the 2004 Destiny's Child comeback album, Destiny Fulfilled, which critics otherwise approached with trepidation. In his New York Times review, Kelefa Sanneh praised the song's "sharp, coldblooded electro-pop," on which the group "sound like an advancing cyborg army." And there as part of it were T.I., poised to become King of the South, and Lil Wayne, who had recently, on his own album Tha Carter, declared himself "the best rapper alive since the best rapper retired." Both were hot at the time—T.I. had a hit with "Bring Em Out" and Lil Wayne had "Go DJ"—but neither had had a single like "Soldier," which climbed as high as number three on the Hot 100. "That shit was big, man," Wayne told Wilson in that 2014 interview. "That shit was Destiny's Child, 'Soldier.' It was poppin'."
Plus, this was in the wake of Beyoncé's smash hit debut, Dangerously in Love, and singles like "Crazy in Love," "03 Bonnie and Clyde," and "Baby Boy." Beyoncé was a huge fucking star. Almost just as importantly, the guy that Bey was dangerously in love with, as intimated in the "Soldier" lyric about "them boys up top from the BK," was Jay-Z, the recently retired best and biggest rapper in the world. T.I. and Lil Wayne were two of the most likely candidates for his throne, and the significance of their appearance here was not lost on listeners. In its 2005 Lil Wayne cover story, XXL noted that Jay "personally" selected Wayne for the track, as part of his eventually unsuccessful campaign to sign Wayne to Roc-a-Fella. Knowing Bey's love of Southern rap and influence on Jay (she was the one who convinced him to sign Rihanna), I wouldn't be surprised if she played a role in ensuring Jay passed his torch to the younger Mr. Carter rather than someone else.
After all, this song was pivotal for Wayne. His verse is short and not particularly flashy, but it gets the key names out there for fans to remember: He makes a B.G. reference with "Cash Money is a army," and he emphasizes, "Call him Weezy F Baby, please say the baby." And while the lines aren't necessarily the catchiest, they hold up as some expert-level rapping thanks to enunciation that turns phrases like "call him" into internal rhymes (in that case with "Harlem"). Thus, the density and complexity of the lines "If you don't see me on the block I ain't tryna hide / I blend in with the hood, I'm camouflage / bandana tied" is a lot more impressive sounded out than you probably remember.
"That set me off, right there... that song right there, that verse, them little eight bars right there—" Lil Wayne told the SXSW crowd, laughing in disbelief, "That got me there, boy."
Amazingly enough, Lil Wayne hasn't worked with Beyoncé since, although he did have a hit single, "Motivation," with Kelly Rowland in 2011, and Beyoncé's sister Solange tapped him for her album last year, on the song "Mad." Obviously, he's crossed paths with her husband Jay-Z many times. But it's not hard to imagine that, as big as Lil Wayne is, Beyoncé is still one person he really looks to as a star.
In that SXSW interview, he also laughed remembering how he and T.I. showed up early for the video shoot, implying they were starstruck and on their best behavior. Who wouldn't be inspired by Beyoncé? Hell, this song inspired the original Year of Lil Wayne, Tom Breihan's Village Voice blog Status Ain't Hood, which covered Wayne with near-daily attention during his peak, even interviewing him in 2006. I've used that blog as a resource for research throughout this project, as it was one of the few established online sources delivering actual insight about Wayne in the mid-2000s. So this post is also a tribute to that blog, which could have in no way existed without this song (OK, maybe it would have just had a different name). The point being: "Soldier" changed a lot. So allow me to join the never-ending chorus and say, as usual, thank you Beyoncé. Thank you Destiny's Child for bestowing some of your destiny upon this child, Lil Wayne.
Follow Kyle Kramer on Twitter.