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Lil Wayne

From courtside with Lebron to backstage at ‘SNL’: riding with Lil Wayne as he reclaims his crown

Josh Eells Mar 10, 2011
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RD/ Erik Kabik/Retna Ltd./Corbis

The processing room at the New York City Correctional Institution for Men is about as depressing as you’d expect. Broken pay phone, roachy floors, harsh fluorescent lights. There’s a rusty old vending machine against one wall, and along the other, a bank of blue plastic chairs where wives and mothers wait for their men to be released, watching Oprah reruns in shared silence. Presiding over the scene is a blue-uniformed guard, a warning hanging from his Plexiglas partition: no firearms, ammunition, knives, drugs, alcoholic beverages or recording devices permitted on Rikers Island. It’s 2 am on November 4. The sky is black; there’s a light rain falling. Outside, two inmates are sweeping up trash near the barbed-wire fence, shivering in their orange jumpsuits. “Hey, man ”“ you got a cigarette?” whispers one. A guard yells at him to keep moving. In the distance is the Manhattan skyline, the Empire State Building all glowing and white. Across the bay, the red runway lights of LaGuardia Airport are blinking like a taunt.  (Later, he’ll love telling the story about the time they were all out in the yard and a jet took off overhead, on course, no doubt, to some barbed-wire-less tropical paradise.

“Man, I bet you can’t wait to get on that plane, right?” another inmate said to him.

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He shook his head. “Nah. I got my own plane.”)

At the far end of the bridge, outside the gate, they’re staked out, waiting. TMZ, MTV News, paparazzi, fans. He was supposed to get out at midnight, so at this point, they’ve been here a few hours ”“ checking their Twitter feeds, trading rumours. One guy says he heard he lost a day of “good time” and won’t get out until tomorrow. Another says that’s bullshit, the cops are just saying that so everyone will leave. The burly corrections officer patrolling the parking lot is having none of it. “What do you wanna wait for that jerk-off for, anyway? Go home!”

As three turns to four turns to five to six, even the die-hards decide to call it a night, so there’s pretty much no one left when the convoy finally rolls up around 8 am. Ten blacked-out SUVs (“Like we were picking up the president,” says his manager) moving with paramilitary precision. His mom is in one car; the man he calls his daddy is in another. A Maybach peels off from the pack and drives inside to collect its cargo. By now, he’s already changed out of his state-issued green work suit and back into civvies: a long-sleeved white T-shirt, a white hat, Vans. He’s nine or 10 pounds heavier, filled out by eight months of jailhouse push-ups; he looks tired, even a little shellshocked.

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The Maybach eases back out of the gate, trailed by an unmarked Department of Corrections van flashing red and blue. From here, it will whisk him into Manhattan and back to his luxury midtown hotel suite, where he’ll hug his kids, smoke a celebratory cigar, and take a long, hot shower. He’ll spend the afternoon getting his braids done and playing with his family, then board the private plane that will take him back home. But for now, as the doors roll shut and lock behind him, all he can think is that he made it. For the first time in 242 days, Lil Wayne is a free man.

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