Lil Wayne has been freed from jail after serving eight months in a gun case, emerging with a hot new album, well-wishes from a former president and a deepened appreciation for his fans.
The city's Department of Correction website said Thursday the Grammy Award-winning rap star had been released from the Rikers Island jail complex.
"FREE AT LAST!!!!!!!" the rapper's longtime manager, Cortez Bryant, Tweeted Thursday morning.
His managers have said he planned to head for his home in Miami, where they're planning a welcome-home party Sunday.
"I was never scared, worried nor bothered by the situation" behind bars, Lil Wayne said Tuesday through Weezythanxyou.com, a website he set up to give fans a glimpse of his life in jail.
Lil Wayne, who had the best-selling album of 2008 and won a best rap album Grammy with "Tha Carter III," kept his career in high gear while locked up for having a loaded gun on his tour bus in 2007.
His latest album, "I Am Not a Human Being" — released while he was in solitary confinement in September — hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart last month. He also was featured on a string of hits by other artists, including Drake and Eminem, that came out while he was incarcerated — and he recorded a verse for the Drake/Jay-Z collaboration "Light Up" over on the phone for a "Rikers Remix" that made the rounds online.
President Barack Obama recently told Rolling Stone he has some Lil Wayne music on his iPod. And former President Bill Clinton praised the rapper's abilities during a phone interview with a Pittsburgh radio station Tuesday, adding that "what I hope will happen is that he has a good life now."
Lil Wayne, born Dwayne Carter Jr., pleaded guilty in October 2009 to attempted weapon possession, admitting he'd had a loaded, semiautomatic .40-caliber gun on his bus after a Manhattan concert.
He started a yearlong sentence in March but got time off for good behavior, despite a disciplinary knock that sent him to solitary for the last month of his term. A charger and headphones for a digital music player were found in his cell in May, jail officials said. The items are considered contraband.
The rapper later acknowledged the misstep on his Weezythanxyou site, where his associates typed up and posted periodic letters he wrote on topics ranging from his daily Rikers routine to new songs he'd heard and liked on the radio.
He also provided specific, individual responses to some of the fan mail that flooded his cell and became, he said, a source of cheer behind bars.
"I laughed with some of you, reasoned with some of you, and even cried with some of you," he wrote in a letter posted Tuesday. "I never imagined how much impact my words and life can have."
But he assured fans the impact hasn't completely changed an artist known for ingenious work that sometimes borders on weird: "I will be the same Martian I was when I left, just better."
A few die-hard fans huddled in the pre-dawn rain Thursday outside Rikers Island complex, hoping to get a glimpse of him.
Anthony Smith, 19, and his twin sister, Jess, got in their car at 1 a.m. in the town of Woodbury, N.Y., north of the city, to drive down with a couple of friends.
Smith said he's been listening to Lil Wayne for about a decade since his first album, "Tha Block is Hot."
"I feel that his words mean something ... He just has a gift," Smith said.
The group sang and rapped from some of Lil Wayne's songs and occasionally yelled, "Free Weezy," a reference to the rapper's nickname.
"I don't do this for just anyone," said Jess Smith.
Lil Wayne envisions recording new music and releasing a long-rumored "Tha Carter IV" next year, and he may also make a book out of a journal he kept in jail, according to his managers and associates.
But his priorities at the moment are reconnecting with his family — he has four children — and the Cash Money Records labelmates to whom he often refers as family, too.
"Family first ... then back to business," Cash Money co-founder Bryan "Birdman" Williams said in an interview last week.