In 2003, rapper Lil Twist was riding high in his hometown of Dallas. His debut single, "Texas Twist," was a massive ground-level hit, thanks to its rolling, piano-driven commands to hit the floor. (The twist in question is a longstanding urban line dance.) Based on club and street heat, the single quickly hit number one on Dallas urban radio for six weeks straight. A major-label bidding war soon ensued.
But just as quickly, the momentum turned into a backslide. Twist's big booster at the first station to play his single got fired, and the song sank from the airwaves. "They snatched my song off the radio, and I had a huge downfall, because they were player-hating. I would hear word around that everyone was saying, 'It's over for Twist,' " he now recalls. "They were really hating on the kid, you know?"
It's a story that's par for the course for any struggling rapper, except for one detail: Lil Twist was just 10 years old at the time; suffice it to say his detractors were much older. But now, the rising star born Christopher Moore is having the last laugh. As the youngest signee in Lil Wayne's Young Money stable, Twist, who just turned 18, is also poised to become its next big breakout pop star.
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With at least 13 artists officially signed to the label, tracking the supporting cast of characters can get confusing. That's especially true when it comes to Lil Twist, who shares the same name prefix and general age bracket with fellow Young Money artist Lil Chuckee.
While Chuckee still works on his breakthrough, Twist has positioned himself from the outset as a multimedia, multigenre entertainer. Though he's nominally a rapper, his squeaky-clean good looks and friendly, polite demeanor have made him teen-heartthrob material. Brief forays into acting — including a cameo in the Bow Wow film vehicle Lottery Ticket — hint at bigger future projects. And on his latest two releases, he doesn't rap at all. As a featured guest star on Lil Wayne's "Popular," from I Am Not a Human Being, Twist provided a sweet, cooed hook, and his own new single, "Love Affair," is similarly sung.
Additionally, at least one close friendship should help him model megastardom — Twist counts Justin Bieber among his closest friends. "We met through a mutual friend in Atlanta a few years back, before he was the Justin Bieber he is today. We kept in contact and became like best friends, brothers," Twist says. Not only did they toast Twist's 18th birthday recently together in luxe St. Lucia but Bieber put Twist on his smash single "Baby" and in turn guest-stars on Twist's upcoming album, Don't Get It Twisted, due out this June.
Still, Twist may not need much advice from his "brother." His own path to the top of the charts started long ago, as a precocious 7-year-old mimicking his older relatives. "All of my cousins are older than me, and they were rappers — that's what they wanted to do," he says. "I was just being a follower at that moment and just wanted to be like them. But then I found myself really liking it and seeing I could do it; I was putting rhyming words together really young. So I kept at it."
By age 10, he had teamed up with the producer who helped him create "Texas Twist" and incited major-label interest, especially after a performance at the Greg Street Car Show in Atlanta. Twist says that show scored him an offer from Jermaine Dupri and So So Def Records, but he held out from committing to anyone until his fateful meeting with Lil Wayne.
After an opening slot for a Young Money show in Tyler, Texas, Twist slipped Wayne his demo, which soon scored him an invitation for a test recording session in Houston. "Just seeing him through the glass, watching me rap, was very scary," Twist says. "He was actually helping the other artist he was developing, Lil Chuckee, write his rap, and he told me to go write mine. We fixed a few words, and then once I delivered it in the studio, he was like, 'All right, we've got a problem!' " The "problem" was in the slang sense — just the opposite of its literal meaning — and the latest Young Money crew member was born.
By 2008, Twist was hitting the road nonstop with the rest of Young Money, which he says he viewed as a brotherhood from the beginning despite the age gap between him and most of his label mates. "As soon as I got here, it was automatically family. So they didn't hide too much, and they didn't stop themselves from doing certain things," he says, laughing. "It wasn't parental at all."
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Back at home, though, he still tried to live a relatively low-key lifestyle, attending one year of high school before it became completely impractical. Twist's star was already on the rise, thanks to noted appearances in Wayne videos for "Got Money" and "A Milli," something with which his peers couldn't really deal. "Kids were really, really bothering me at school. My high school basically recommended I home-school," he says. "I was a distraction to the kids just by being on TV!"
The last laugh is Twist's, though. Young Money has, besides label head Wayne, of course, already produced bona fide mega-pop stars in Nicki Minaj and Drake, while others like Tyga and Cory Gunz may not be far behind. Now, with Twist's album the next big Young Money release, the full weight of the imprint's untouchable brand image may help push it over the edge.
It helps that, musically, Twist's album veers away from straight rap and aims for a much broader appeal. An avowed fan of pop and rock acts like Maroon 5 and Amy Winehouse, Twist says Don't Get It Twisted is much more overtly genre-spanning. "It's very universal. It's my pop side, it's my rock side, it's my R&B singing side, and it's my rap side," he says. "You're going to get a lot of different genres on my album." Listeners are also going to get a lot of different marquee names lending their shine. Besides the aforementioned buddy Bieber, Drake and Minaj make appearances, as do Sean Kingston and another recent Young Money signee, Shanell.
And if it all bubbles over, it'll make the lack of "normal" teenaged years all worth it, Twist says — although, he says, he doesn't really feel like he missed out. "Everybody else would probably say, 'Oh, they're pressuring you to do so much hard work,' but this is my fun and games," he says. "It's not a normal childhood, because it's always work, but this is what I love, and this is what I chose to do. So I love it, and I didn't miss out on too much."