In the 2009 documentary The Carter, Lil Wayne is interviewed by a European journalist.
JOURNALIST: “There is some form of jazz in your poetry?”
LIL WAYNE: “No, sir. There isn’t.”
JOURNALIST: “When you gets to compose a song, is it done on the spot when you go to the studio, or do you write it down in a journal?”
LIL WAYNE: “I don’t write music. I just record when I get there.”
JOURNALIST: “So you never did any kind of poetry that you write down to use later?”
LIL WAYNE: “No, I don’t want to do poetry. I’m not into poetry. This interview is with a rapper, so I don’t understand.”
Wayne then ends the interview. He yells to his publicist and says he doesn’t like this interview. He tells the journalist he doesn’t like him. The journalist is confused and asks for an explanation. Wayne ignores him and people in the room tell him to leave.
In the same documentary, Wayne talks about not writing down his raps. He says: “No evidence. […] I don’t want to end up like—rest in peace, that’s my man—Kurt, but I don’t want nobody selling my journals and tablets and stuff when I do, so… no evidence. I keep all of the memories in here [points to his head] and the memories in there [wiggles his fingers].”
(Wayne is of course talking about Kurt Cobain’s Journals, a collection of diary entries, letters, and drawings that was published in 2002. I understand that Kafka wanted his unfinished works [which includes all of them except The Metamorphosis] as well as his diaries and letters to be destroyed on his death. They were published anyway. We might also think about the seven Tupac albums released since his death, more than the four released when he was alive.)
Wayne goes on to say: “Shit… If I write it down, you can read it.”
In Adam Bradley’s Book of Rhymes, he recounts a tangential history of the early rap song “Rapper’s Delight” (and maybe the original sin of rap):
Somewhere in that space between lines and rhymes, rap was born. [Grandmaster] Caz himself would prove one of the pivotal figures in rap’s development. It was Caz’s book of rhymes that ended up in the hands of a pizzeria employee by the name of Henry Jackson, aka Big Bank Hank, and it would be Caz’s rhymes that would soon appear in Hank’s verse from rap’s first mainstream hit, “Rapper’s Delight.” Caz would never receive compensation.
Lil Wayne mentions not writing in a few of his songs:
“flow scorch ya / and I don’t even write: no author” (“Love Me Or Hate Me”)
“I don’t rap, I just shit like newborn / I don’t write, I just spit like a tooth gone” (“Boom”)
“threw the pencil and leak the sheet of the tablet in my mind / cuz I don’t write shit cuz I ain’t got time” (“A Milli”)
“Weezy F. Baby: I don’t write shit / be on the hype shit” (“U Gon Love Me”)
“…as I skim back over the lines that on the page, I’m lying / I don’t write, I get high and ignite” (“Famous”)
Note that, when Wayne says write, he doesn’t refer to composition, but to the physical act of inscribing or painting letters on a surface. This sense is reflected in the etymology of most Indo-European words for writing. Consider the Proto-Germanic *writanan (“tear, scratch”), the Latin scribere (“to write”) from Proto-Indo-European *skreibh- (“cut, incise”), and the Proto-Slavic pisati (“to write”) from Proto-Indo-European *peyḱ- (“to paint, draw”).
Compare Wayne’s criticism of margins (“keep your bitch-ass lines inside the margin”) to Nas’s treatment in the classic lines from “The World Is Yours”: “I sip the Dom P, watching Gandhi till I’m charged / then writing in my book of rhymes, all the words pass the margin.” In both, the physical constraint of the page is seen as a restriction to expression.
In the VH1 Behind the Music episode on Lil Wayne, they discuss his song known as “10,000 Bars.” It is a 30-plus-minute song of uninterrupted raps, over about 25 different beats. It seems it was originally called “Freestyle Session 2002” and released in that year. It was re-released as “10,000 Bars” in 2003 as the seventh and final volume of Lil Wayne’s Squad Up mixtape series. (Note that the song is just over a thousand bars, not ten thousand.)
The story is that Wayne took all of his notebooks and decided to record every rap he had, all at once, and then not write anymore. During the song, you can hear pages ruffling. It’s hard to tell if these were intentional or not, or whether they were captured during the vocal take or overdubbed later.
Wayne’s manager Cortez Bryant says that “it was the last time [Wayne] ever wrote anything down.” Cortez Bryant explains that it “changed Wayne as an artist. […] Everything was on his heart. Everything was in his head. He just started putting it out.” Wayne says: “When I stopped writing, I’ve noticed that everything was real now. I cant speak about nothing but what’s real. Because I can’t write nothing down.”
Jay-Z was maybe the first rapper to incorporate “not writing” into his personal mythology. He was known to write whole songs in his head before recording them. They seemingly spring from his head fully formed, like Athena from Zeus, without the mediation of the written word. (You can get a glimpse of this in a video of Jay-Z recording “99 Problems” with Rick Rubin.)
Other rappers have made similar claims of not writing: Waka Flocka in “My G” (“no pen or pencil / straight off the temple”), or Jeezy in the intro to “My President” (“Yeah, be the realest shit I never wrote—I ain’t write this by the way, nigga. Some real shit right here, nigga.—This’ll be the realest shit you ever quote”). The idea is that freestyling or composing in your head, instead of writing, is a more authentic kind of expression. (Of course, no one is ever freestyling.)
Maybe there is a mysticism to not writing things down, similar to taboos regarding speaking or writing the names of god, or other iconoclastic practices. Maybe the written word is too crude of an approximation of the real thing and destroys any power it might have.