The greatness of Lil Wayne’s I Am Not a Human Being is still being felt deeply both in the hip-hop community and the MTV Newsroom. Though it’s still too early to make predictions, I Am Not a Human Being remains the top-selling album on iTunes and should make in impression in next week’s album chart. That’s a pretty remarkable feat considering that the artist is currently incarcerated. It’s a testament to how devoted Weezy’s fan base is (though his blogs and phone calls from jail haven’t hurt).
But considering it’s only available as a digital release at the moment (the physical album hits brick-and-mortar store shelves on October 12), it will probably be an uphill battle to the top of the chart. Should Wayne figure out a way to the pinnacle of the Billboard 200, he would join Tupac as the only artists who topped the album chart while incarcerated. Tupac’s 1995 smash Me Against the World was recorded in the weeks leading up to the beginning of his sentence stemming from a sexual assault conviction and spent five weeks at the top of the chart (mostly on the strength of the single “Dear Mama,” an homage to his mother Afeni Shakur — who has had a history of her own legal trouble).
Who else has released top-shelf work while serving as a guest of the government? In addition to Wayne and Tupac, here are the best ones.
Shyne, Godfather Buried Alive
Sent to prison for a decade for assault, reckless endangerment and weapons possession, Shyne’s promising rap career was derailed before it could really get started. But that didn’t stop him from releasing Godfather Buried Alive in 2004. Composed mostly of vocals recorded before his incarceration (plus one fresh rap courtesy of the prison phone), Godfather Buried Alive is a surprisingly strong album notable for its to-shelf production (care of Kanye West, Just Blaze and Swizz Beatz) and Shyne’s signature basso profundo.
Prodigy, H.N.I.C. Pt. 2
One half of Mobb Deep is currently in jail serving time, and we last heard from him when H.N.I.C. Pt. 2 dropped shortly after he went in. Full of solid production (by fellow Mobb Deep member Havoc as well as Alchemist), it contains some of the hottest verses of Prodigy’s career, as though he knew that he wouldn’t have a voice for a few years.
G-Unit, Beg For Mercy
OK, so only 25 percent of the group was incarcerated (that would be Tony Yayo), but his presence loomed large on the 50 Cent-lead crew’s debut (his turn on “Groupie Love” is especially great). Yayo got the chance to shine on his own when he was released, but ironically Beg For Mercy is the most successful project Yayo has ever been attached to.
Gucci Mane, The State vs. Radric Davis
Gucci has had a history of legal woes, so it wasn’t necessarily surprising that he was rapping about the law coming down on him even before he found out he was going away. While The State vs. Radric Davis is a fine collection of beats and rhymes, his just-released The Appeal: Georgia’s Most Wanted is far superior (and features a liberated Gucci).
Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison
OK, so it was only recorded in a jail, and Cash never actually spent any time behind bars. But this album rules, doesn’t it?