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A very special guest; As a mentor and collaborator, Lil Wayne has done big things to help advance the careers of others

He's Dwayne Michael Carter to his mother, but the rest of the world knows him as Lil Wayne, Machiavellian rap entrepreneur, performer, producer, guest artist nonpareil and convicted felon, among many other things.

Wayne, who performs at HSBC Arena tonight, has sold millions of albums since first emerging into the public consciousness in 1999, with the release of his platinum-selling solo debut, "The Block is Hot."

Even jail time couldn't stall his forward-march of commercial clout. Like a hip-hop version of football's Michael Vick, Wayne emerged from hard time (based on a weapons charge) in fighting form, ready to not only pick up where he left off, but to take it all even further.

Toward that, Wayne is poised to release his hotly anticipated new album, "Tha Carter IV," in April. All signs point to the record becoming one of the biggest-selling albums of the year, and its status as the summer's go-to party collection is all but set in stone.

Wayne is without a doubt the biggest hip-hop story of the past 10 years. In the main, his impact can be broken down to the manner in which he married his idiosyncratic rhythmic flow to rock rhythms and "real band" sounds without the awkward self-consciousness that normally capsizes such musical cross-pollination efforts.

But Wayne is also a major mentor, a man who has never been shy about sharing his enthusiasms in no uncertain terms. He is one of the most prolific "special guests" in a musical idiom where such cameos are beyond obligatory -- even if nearly every album that cracked the Top 10 in the past five years or so boasted at least one special guest, Wayne has taken such appearances to a new level.

All of this has meant that the man can often seem to be everywhere at once, simultaneously occupying the cover of Rolling Stone, say, and the inside of a jail cell.

It is difficult to view all of Lil Wayne's activities with a jaundiced eye. Sure, the guy seems hell-bent on world domination in the pop culture sense, but he is also a loyal friend and a tireless champion of just-breaking and still-underground artists, folks who stand to greatly benefit from his considerably impressive rubber stamp of approval.

Here are but a few of the artists to whom Wayne has extended the power of his endorsement. You might note that all of them are doing rather well these days.

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Nicki Minaj

Currently the Lil Wayne protege with the highest profile and the biggest media buzz, Minaj was born in Trinidad, and boasts a blend of hip-hop and multiculti pop that suggests a more mainstream version of M.I.A. Wayne discovered her, helped her sign to the Young Money group, and bolstered the singer's "Pink Friday" album on its way toward the top of the charts by singing its praises at every available opportunity.

Most recently, Wayne told MTV News that "No other females can touch [Minaj]." She is on tonight's bill in HSBC Arena.

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Drake

The former star of television's "Degrassi" series is a favorite of Lil Wayne's. At this year's Grammy Awards ceremonies, Wayne was not shy about being photographed on the red carpet with both Minaj and Drake, the latter of whom would go on to provide one of the evening's most talked-about performances when he dueted with Rihanna.

Wayne signed Drake in 2009, talked him up big time, and is now preparing for the release of a collaborative collection with the younger rapper.

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Birdman

At the beginning, it was rap entrepreneur Bryan "Birdman" Williams who mentored Lil Wayne. The older man would go on to produce "Tha Carter" and "Tha Carter II" for Wayne. As Wayne's star hit its first peak, the two would release the collaborative album "Like Father Like Son"; a second installment in the series is said to be slated for June release.

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DJ Khaled

Khaled Bin Abdul Khaled -- better known as DJ Khaled -- first came to prominence as DJ with the group Terror Squad. Following some successful collaborations with Lil Wayne, Khaled went on to release four highly successful solo efforts. In 2009, he became one of the most influential executives in the hip-hop industry, when he was made president of Def Jam South.

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Tech N9ne

Tech N9ne, the king of underground hip-hop, visited Wayne while he was in prison, where the two planned to record together. Wayne had placed a collaboration with the West Coast cult king near the top of his "bucket list." The Tech N9ne collaboration is strongly rumored to be one of the high points of the forthcoming "The Carter IV."

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Lil Wayne's big resume

Lil Wayne has collaborated on nearly 400 songs released under the name of another artist. Even during an age when almost every pop album released boasts a "Featuring so-and-so with so-and-so" somewhere on its sleeve, that number seems almost preposterous. Not all of these cameos have been able to save the song in question, artistically or commercially. But many of them bear the markings of early 20th century pop classics.

Here's a Top 10 of Wayne's guest spots.

1) "Stuntin' Like My Daddy" with Birdman

2) "MIA" with DJ Kahled

3) "All Night Long" with Robin Thicke

4) "Grew Up A Screw Up" with Ludacris

5) "It's Me, Bitches" with Swizz Beats, Jadakiss and R. Kelly

6) "Gimme Watcha Got" with Chris Brown

7) "Viva La White Girl" with Gym Class Heroes

8) "This Ain't No Scene, It's An Arms Race (Remix)" with Fall Out Boy

9) "Revolver" with Madonna

10) "Can't Stop Partying" with Weezer

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WHAT: Lil Wayne with Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Travis Barker and Mixmaster Mike

WHEN: 7 tonight WHERE: HSBC Arena

TICKETS: $39.75 to $79.95

FOR INFO: www.hsbcarena.com, www.livenation.com