Holding up sagging pants during performances, gesturing with gang symbols in photo shoots, and rapping about bling-bling and big cash is all part of Lil' Wayne's hardcore rap persona.
But the mean-streets artist turns into a serious businessman during a phone interview this week as the 22-year-old performer discusses his rise to Southern-rap stardom from the tough streets of New Orleans' Hollygrove neighborhood.
"I'm an only child. For most of my life, it was just me and my mom," says Lil' Wayne, who performs tonight at Headliners. "My dad passed away when I was 14. I was a man way before most. It was about money for me. I was paying the mortgage at about 11 or 12."
The 5-foot, 8-inch rapper was born Wayne Carter, Jr., and his talent was discovered at an early age.
He was signed to the Cash Money Records label by co-founders Bryan "Baby" Williams and Ronald "Slim" Williams at age 11, making him the youngest artist on the label's roster.
He has scored with hit singles "Bring it Back" and "Go DJ." His current album, "Tha Carter," has been certified gold, selling more than 500,000 copies.
Lil' Wayne, who is single and has a 6-year-old daughter who lives in Georgia, says he is enrolled at the University of Houston and plans to major in sports psychology.
"I feel like a degree will help me in the future," he says. "The face of sports is changing now, and I feel like I can reach and relate to the young athletes coming out today. I would like to have my own sports agency."
He also has started his own record label, Young Money - a collaborative project with Cash Money Records - to promote his own artists.
Lil' Wayne is scheduled to appear tonight at Headliners, 4500 North Detroit Ave. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets, $25, are available at the door. Information: www.headlinerstoledo.com.
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