In the midst of a career surge that has made him one of rap’s biggest stars, Lil Wayne is bracing for a year behind bars after pleading guilty Thursday in a two-year-old gun case.
A glum Lil Wayne said little as he admitted illegally having a loaded gun on his tour bus in 2007, moving to end a case that had churned along as he collected Grammys and gold records. He’s expected to get a year in jail at his sentencing, set for February.
The plea, which came as he boasted the country’s No. 1 pop song, makes Lil Wayne the latest in a long line of rappers to face incarceration after topping the charts.
Arguably rap’s most popular artist, Lil Wayne somberly answered his judge’s questions with “yes, sir” and “no, sir” as he pleaded guilty to a felony charge of attempted criminal possession of a weapon.
He acknowledged he had a loaded .40-caliber semiautomatic gun when the bus was stopped shortly after a Manhattan concert on July 22, 2007. His lawyer had previously disputed the gun was the rapper’s, in part by questioning the reliability of a highly sensitive DNA test that prosecutors said tied him to the weapon.
State Supreme Court Justice Charles Solomon warned Lil Wayne that he wouldn’t be able later to withdraw the plea, as some people try to do.
“I’m not one of those people,” said the rapper, who sat in court in jeans and a hooded parka. He pulled up the hood and didn’t speak as he left the courthouse with members of his entourage, who piled into four black SUVs. He’s due back in court Dec. 15 before his sentencing date, which has yet to be set.
He had faced at least 3 1/2 years in prison if convicted of the original weapons-possession charges against him.
Lil Wayne, 27, also is scheduled for trial in Arizona in March on felony drug possession and weapons charges stemming from a January 2008 arrest at a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint. He has pleaded not guilty in that case.
In March, an Atlanta judge dismissed felony drug charges against Lil Wayne. His lawyer had said the rapper wasn’t staying in the hotel room where police said the drugs were found in 2006.
Exploding in popularity
Over the past two years, Lil Wayne — born Dwayne Carter — has emerged as the best-selling figure in music. His “Tha Carter III” topped all album sales in 2008 with 2.8 million copies sold off of such hits as the No. 1 smash “Lollipop.” His Grammys include last year’s best rap solo performance award, for “A Milli.”
A rapper since he was a teen, Lil Wayne exploded in popularity thanks to his voluminous output on the mixtape circuit and collaborations with other artists. He currently has the No. 1 song in the country with Jay Sean, “Down.”
While his lyrics sometimes are laced with violence, he’s more known for clever wordplay and risque material.
The relationship between chronicling crime and living it has long been an issue in rap. Some of the genre’s big names — including Tupac Shakur, Lil’ Kim, Beanie Sigel, Shyne, Mystikal and C-Murder — have done a few months to several years behind bars for crimes committed after they became famous.
T.I., another of rap’s top sellers, reported to a federal prison in May for his conviction on weapons charges. He’s expected to serve a year and a day.
While some rappers haven’t regained their chart status after prison or jail, Shakur became even more popular, and T.I. remains popular on the radio.
Police pulled over Lil Wayne’s tour bus shortly after it left a concert venue, saying they had seen and smelled marijuana smoke wafting out the door when it was parked.
After ordering roughly a dozen or so other people off the bus, police found a freshly showered Lil Wayne in his boxer shorts in a bedroom at the back of the bus. Police said that as an officer approached, the rapper tossed away a Louis Vuitton bag containing the gun.
The Miami-based rapper wasn’t licensed to carry a gun in New York, prosecutors said.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office said small amounts of DNA found on the gun connected it to Lil Wayne. Defense lawyer Stacey Richman had raised questions about the relatively new technique, used to derive the results from DNA samples that can consist of fewer than roughly 16 human cells.
A hearing on the method’s level of scientific acceptance started Wednesday and had been expected to continue for days. After Lil Wayne’s guilty plea, both prosecutors and Richman stressed that they stood by their contrasting positions on the technique.
But, Solomon said, “The issue is not going to be decided in this courtroom, in this case.”
Meanwhile, another platinum-selling rapper, Ja Rule, still faces gun-possession charges stemming from his separate arrest after playing the same July 2007 show as Lil Wayne. Ja Rule, known to the court as Jeff Atkins, has pleaded not guilty. He has a court date next month.