Just 12 months ago, Lil Wyte dropped his debut, Doubt Me Now, on the streets of North Memphis. The album, loaded with singles such as "I Sho Will," sold more than 126,000 copies for distributor Select-O-Hits and is currently moving 1,000 units a month. "I'm gone be rolling in some dough/But you can doubt me now/You said there will be no hoping/You can doubt me now/I told ya that I was gonna make it/You can doubt me now," Wyte confidently rapped on the title track. Just a year later, those words prove prophetic.
Today, Lil Wyte -- aka 22-year-old Patrick Lanshaw -- is taking time for interviews while posing for an XXL magazine photo shoot. With his second album, Phinally Phamous, he's landed on Asylum Records, a subsidiary of the newly relaunched Atlantic label. Life, he assures me, has never looked better.
"It's incredible," Wyte says. "Seriously. I feel like I'm gonna wake up and be 16 all over again."
Back then, he explains, he was just a white kid trying to break into the rap business. "I first got into it when I was 7 years old. The first hard stuff I got into was the Geto Boys," he remembers. "My family had moved into Frayser in the early '80s, and there I was, a little-bitty kid in the 'hood, lovin' it."
By his late teens, Wyte had formed a group, the Shelby Forest Clique, and cut some home demos. That tape eventually found its way to Three 6 Mafia's DJ Paul and Juicy J, but, as Wyte explains, he wasn't even the one to hand it off. "I was working at some warehouse in East Memphis, and I came home to find this shit sitting in my lap," he says with a laugh. "It still seems unbelievable."
Despite his pale complexion, the rapper cautions against the inevitable Eminem comparisons. "We're two different people," Wyte says. "We're both white, and we both rap, but that's it." Lyrically, the two are opposites: Eminem favors sarcastic, hostile rhymes, while Lil Wyte's crunked-out lines focus on good times.
Sometimes, the partying gets a little heavy, as illustrated by the litany of drug references in the song "Oxy Cotton."
"It's just a song," Wyte maintains. "In real life, if I'd done all that in one night, I wouldn't be here talking to you."
But, he insists, his lyrics are true to life. "Folks ask me, 'Have you sold crack?' No, I never sold crack. But my next-door neighbor is a crackhead, and I have a friend who's been dealing for 10 years. I see it every day."
Does Wyte, I wonder, feel lucky to have emerged from the 'hood unscathed?
"I'm lucky, period," he says, cutting me off mid-question. "Any way you could finish that sentence, I'm lucky."
He credits his success in life to his parents. "My dad always told me not to take shit from anybody and to always give it your all," Wyte says. "No matter what, at the end of the day, you're always gonna be a man and how you live that day is how you live it. The next one's coming, and you can either do things the same way or change 'em. He taught me how to get on a pattern in life and walk this one line."
While his idols include his friends and producers DJ Paul and Juicy J, Wyte also looks beyond rap for models to emulate. "Elvis definitely put a mark on this planet," he notes. "Al Green put his mark, B.B. King -- all these folks who just happened to be from Memphis.
"I'm gonna put my mark too, so that 20 years from now someone will be talking to a reporter about me," Wyte says, only half-kidding.
"And," he adds defiantly, "if I moved to Alaska and lived in an igloo, I'd still be representin' Frayser! I told my girl, the way I feel, no matter where we live, once you cross that doorway, you're back in the 'hood."