Lil Wayne, Drake and Nicki Minaj recently held a reunion concert to celebrate each other’s legacies, as well as the label that made it possible. Hosted by Champagne Papi himself, this highly anticipated performance would be the first time the trio shared the stage in eight years. Drake and Nicki expressed heartfelt gratitude toward their mentor Lil Wayne, and he graciously accepted their appreciation. As they performed songs and joked onstage like old times, it took fans back to Young Money’s prime in the late 2000s, when they were hip-hop’s hottest crew. Though their reign may have come to an end, their legacy lives on; these three musical artists would go on to change the game as we know it and become household names in modern hip-hop.
Formed through a joint venture with Cash Money Records, Young Money, or YMCMB, was founded by Lil Wayne in 2003. Constantly recruiting new talent, the New Orleans rapper came across a young Nicki Minaj from a hip-hop DVD. Impressed with her raps, he remarked that she not only rapped better than other female emcees he’d heard but other rappers in general. He knew he had to get her on his label. When it came to Drake, Wayne was initially hesitant to sign him but the Young Money founder saw potential in him too. When he heard Drake rap and sing in the same song, Wayne knew he was a star in the making. He reached out to them, and the two artists would sign as Young Money in 2009. And the rest is history.
Both Drake and Nicki were up-and-coming artists in the industry, but they weren’t amateurs. The two had been releasing mixtapes throughout the 2000s long before their rise to fame and had already made a name for themselves, gradually appearing on the rap community’s radar. Aside from the seasoned rappers on the roster, this made them stand out from some of the label’s artists who were in the early stages of their careers. Though the two artists would continue to release music that featured other Young Money members, the release of YMCMB’s hit song “BedRock” formally introduced and displayed Nicki’s and Drake’s confidence and charisma to the world.
If Young Money were the Avengers, “BedRock” would be their “Battle for New York.” The 2009 track cemented the hip-hop collective as a force to be reckoned with, and its music video portrayed the group as a fun, dysfunctional bunch. Drake displayed his smooth, ladies’ man persona, which would become a staple in his music. Nicki’s Barbie alter-ego also made an appearance as she held her own on the male-dominated track. The song was an instant hit, peaking at No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in March 2010. Kids everywhere were singing the song’s infectious, catchy chorus, “Call me Mr. Flinstone, I can make your bed rock,” having no idea what the lyrics actually meant. This showed not only how influential Young Money was, but how impressionable kids could be as they would continue to rule the music charts with songs like “Every Girl” and “Roger That.”
YMCMB was everywhere. If you didn’t hear their songs on the radio, the songs you did hear probably had either Wayne, Drake or Nicki featured on them. Though they weren’t the only rappers who made up Young Money, they were some of the most popular. Nicki’s eccentric wardrobe and colorful persona had all the young girls wanting to rock pink wigs and Barbie chains. Drake’s 2011 song “The Motto,” which featured Lil Wayne, also popularized the now infamous acronym YOLO (you only live once). Though this word has been forcibly abandoned, it undoubtedly shaped youth culture in the early 2010s. However, not everyone was happy with YM’s success.
People couldn’t stand to see Lil Wayne’s entourage become so popular. Their presence in the rap game spawned memes about their music careers and Young Money affiliates were often blamed for the “death of hip-hop.” Due to their unconventional style, oldheads felt the rap collective didn’t represent the genre’s roots. In spite of all the hate, however, their talent and influence were undeniable as Nicki, Drake and Wayne proved time and time again their lyrical capabilities and pen game; their massive catalog of music contains plenty of counter-examples for anyone who would dispute their skill. And when these three rap heavyweights were on the same track, they were unstoppable.
Known by fans as the Big 3, the trio’s camaraderie made its way into their collaborations. They featured on each other’s songs, performed and toured with each other, and at award shows, they would be seated together too; if one of them won an award, the other two would follow up on stage for the acceptance speech. The three were inseparable. Nicki and Drake, who fans lovingly refer to as Dricki, would spark dating rumors with songs they made together like “Moment 4 Life.” The two were never together romantically, made clear in the first line of Nicki’s song “Only,” but they were very close friends and their chemistry was undeniable.
The two also shared a close relationship with Lil Wayne, who always pushed Nicki and Drake to be better. He wanted them to succeed and never expressed jealousy over their achievements, even when the two surpassed him in popularity. Wayne was always supportive of his protégés, providing encouragement and feedback and constantly making sure they were pushing their limits and making the best music they could. Wayne also never asked for anything in return. Seeing the two succeed was enough reward for him, and all he wanted to do was let them shine, which was rare considering rap’s competitive nature.
The Canadian rapper who was frequently snubbed would go on to become a successful musician with 11 No. 1 hits on Billboard. He’d also become the face of pop rap and one of the many pioneers of alternative R&B. The young girl from Queens, New York, would influence a generation of girls to pursue education, achieve their dreams and be their own boss. She would also become the blueprint (or pinkprint if you will) for future female rappers. And the young dread-headed rapper from New Orleans’ impact can’t be measured by this article alone, but his influence is widespread, from his clever bars and eccentric wardrobe to his rockstar lifestyle.
These three aren’t the biggest names in hip-hop for nothing. Their legacies were years in the making and they’re all still popular to this day. Although critics have condemned Lil Wayne’s previous use of autotune, labeled Drake a soft rapper, and called Nicki’s music “too pop,” the Young Money trio has shaped hip-hop as we know it today and their legacies can’t be undone.