Before he became associated with rappers in tight pants, hip-hop’s conservative wing was spooked by Lil Wayne. This was in 2006, when, seemingly out of nowhere, a photo of Wayne kissing his mentor Birdman came to light. To me, the image seems as if it belongs in The Metropolitan Museum of Art — a group of men walk swiftly past tall columns and bright palm trees as our two heroes, dressed in all-white, embrace by the hands, as well as the lips. The close distance between them and the surreal background is just perfect enough to make you wonder if the picture is even real at all.
On October 26, 2006, HipHopDX debuted the photo to the wider world under the headline “Who’s Your Daddy?” Jeff “J-23” Ryce, the site’s former editor-in-chief, wrote the article. Ryce told FADER over email that it was passed on to him by his coworker and the eventual founder of 2DopeBoyz, Shake, who procured it from discrete channels. “Shake got the picture from one of his connections and was quite certain it wasn’t a photoshop job (he was also our graphic designer),” Ryce said. “Beyond that I don't know, and didn't know then either. We didn't ask how he got all this, all that mattered was that he got it.” Shake did not return requests for comment from The FADER.
The photo’s existence came about five months before Twitter actually got off the ground at South by Southwest in March of 2007. And yet, as Ryce said, the picture became “the overwhelming reference point for any Lil Wayne haters in comments sections, or social media.” But in the grand scheme of their careers, the picture had no real impact — which is utterly surprising, considering the news broke during the end of the ultra-conservative Bush years and the fact that hip-hop has routinely struggled to deal with LGBTQ acceptance.
But for the two rappers, the photo was just an everyday occurrence — they shared a hello kiss during an episode of Rap City in 2002 and quickly pecked during an on-air interview during an appearance on 106 and Park. Several Cash Money associates have also admitted to kissing Birdman, noting that it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
When asked by New Orleans’s Q93 Radio a week after the photo leaked, Birdman defended the photo with intense gusto. “Before I had a child, Wayne and all of them were my children, you heard me? Wayne to me is my son — my first-born son — and that’s what it do for me. That’s my life, that’s my love and that’s my thing. That’s my lil’ son. I love him to death,” he said.
When the morning show DJs continued to pry about whether or not he was bothered by haters who were freaked out about the kiss, he rejected the criticism and again likened Wayne to his actual child. “My lil’ son — Lil Bryan gets the same love from me,” Birdman said. “That’s my thing. That’s what I do for my child. I give him my heart, my life and I’ll pump blood for him. I’ll issue some blood for him too. Believe that.”
The legacy of the photo endures, even as their relationship has had its ups and downs. As Charlamagne Tha God said in 2015, “they will always be known as the couple who kissed on the mouth.” Most recently in 2009, Baby was asked by the BBC about the photo and, as he had in years before, maintained his love for Wayne: “That’s my son, ya heard me. If he was right here, I’d kiss him again.”
Thumbnail image via Scott Gries/ Getty Images.