Sunday, June 1, 2008

Lil' Wayne - Tha Carter III

It’s been close to 3 years since Lil' Wayne released Tha Carter II, which many critics and fans of modern rap music immediately hailed an instant classic, doing their best to confirm Wayne’s boast of being “the best rapper alive since the best rapper retired,” an obvious reference to Jay-Z during his brief retirement after The Black Album was released.

It’s rare we see the rap music star who can transcend genres and also be accepted by the three main sources of Hiphop – the east coast, the west coast, and, of course, the south. But Wayne has done just that, on his own terms no less, kissing no one’s ass and making very few excuses, if any, for his behavior (save for maybe his recent mea culpa to DJ Drama after news of him dumbing out on mixtape DJs last week), which includes recent arrests for weapons and drugs.

(He openly and proudly admits he consumes a variety of drugs. Sad as it may be, the truth is most of the greatest entertainers -- not just rappers -- in the history of popular culture have grappled with their own personal demons while at the same time making some of the most timeless music ever created. See Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, and Amy Winehouse for further proof of this theory. So I have no problem with him drinking syrup and popping pills. As long as the music doesn't suffer.)

Wayne seemingly lives in the studio, as virtually every day there is at least one new song “leaked” on the internet either by or featuring him. It’s amazing but no longer surprising, since Wayne has upped the ante for the hiphop recording ethic, outdoing the likes of mixtape veterans like Papoose, Max B and Uncle Murda, who have been relentless with their own releases and features in the past year or so.

There are tons of skeptics out there who don't want to see Wayne rise to the top of the rap game and still don't see what the big deal is about Wayne, who's biggest claim to fame is inventing the word "bling." But even those same skeptics, who have never willingly listened to one single Wayne song or verse, are eager to hear Weezy's new album to see if all the talk of his oratory talents are true. It is with that same apprehension and eagerness that I greet this LP.

The album starts off with 3Peat, a nod to the 3rd installment of Weezy’s famed Tha Carter albums. Filled with braggadocio rhymes, the very Toomp-esque track features heavy synths with a touch of the funky worm during the hook. But since it is produced by Cool n Dre, and not Dr. Dre -- the king of the funky worm -- it still feels a bit like an imitation Toomp instead of a bona fide Cool n Dre joint. Were it not for Wayne’s confidence and complete dominance of the track it would barely be noteworthy, but Wayne sounds triumphant and eager to present the rest of the album, proclaiming “I’m back, 3Peat, C3!”

Next up is "Mr. Carter", an ode to the surname that both Weezy and Jay-Z have in common. Weezy lets Jay get shine on a verse and it’s debatable who has the best 16. Jay does more money raps about how he’s the greatest in both games (rap and corporate), but this critic thinks Weezy eclipsed Jay with his final verse, which ended in a couplet that echoes the obvious theme of this album, Wayne’s clear dominance in rap music:

“Next time you mention Pac, Biggie and Jay-Z
Don’t forget Weezy Baby!”

The album isn’t without faults and has a certified dud in the T-Pain assisted “Got Money” as well as the tribute to post-Katrina New Orleands "Tie My Hands" (featuring crooner Robin Thicke with whom Weezy had a great deal of success with their song "Shooter"). "Shoot Me Down" is the first of three Kanye-produced tracks, and features a very thin, emo-tinged voice on the hook while Weezy apparently displays his newfound ability with a guitar.

But those missteps are forgotten quickly when the stutter of Kanye's drums introduce "Comfortable" -- a duet with Babyface that has the most potential, aside from the already #1 song "Lollipop," to be a chart topper -- where Wayne and Babyface warn the women in their lives to not take their love for granted and get too comfortable.

But Wayne is at his best on "Dr. Carter," where Lil' Wayne has an M.D. in rapping and sees patients who need his help in the art of emceeing, complete with a sexy-sounding nurse introducing one of his patients as "suffering from a lack of concepts, originality" with a weak flow and "no style". Dr. Carter, always up to the task to school sucker emcees, quickly explains to a patient that "your style's a disgrace, your rhymes are fifth place, and I'm just grace, one, uno, ace." The song ends with Wayne saving the life of one rapper who had momentarily flat-lined, but of course Wayne resuscitated the amateur rhymesmith, who no doubt was grateful for Wayne's merciless duty.

Wayne invites his buddies from New York to join him on "Nothin' on Me" where Juelz Santana and Fabolous trade verses while Weezy is back on that T-Pain-ish voice box for the hook. The Alchemist does his thing on the track, but the beat is a little too reminiscent of Cam’ron’s Wet Wipes, so for me it lost a bit of its luster right off the bat. Especially once I found out who produced it. It’s still solid. Pause.

"Let the Beat Build", also produced by Kanye, is, at first, a sparse-sounding beat, slowly but surely fueled by an old time sounding piano riff over a soul vocal sample, only for Wayne to keep rapping while the beat keeps adding different elements to it, like a nasty snare and kick, while Wayne reminds us that he still believes he is the best rapper alive.

The album ends with Mrs. Officer, a song about how Wayne can trump the law to the point that he recounts an episode where an attractive female cop pulls him over only to order him to “remain silent,” after which he proceeds to “fuck the police”. When they’re finished Wayne politely asks for her number, to which she responds “call 911.” Wayne then admits that if he did call her, indeed it would be for “emergency only/ head doctor, perform surgery on me.” He then shouts out Rodney King when he tells the officer that he would “beat it like a cop”. All this with Bobby Valentino on the hook, saying he will make the officer’s body “sing,” and then proceeds to mimic the sound of a squad car siren. But it works. It’s a cool summer song, and a nice way to end the album.

It will be interesting to see if Wayne continues his onslaught on the industry by hitting the mixtape circuit like he did pre-Carter III, of if he sits back for a second and relaxes and enjoys the fruits of his labor. Yes the album leaked, but they all do nowadays. Kanye’s latest leaked two weeks ahead of time and still sold barely shy of platinum in his first week. So I don’t think this will affect sales as much as many think it could.

Not to mention Weezy has given us well over 1000 verses in the past few years, all for free, so I don’t think he’s tripping. Maybe on syrup, but not over sales. What he doesn’t earn from album sales he will more than make up for in concert ticket sales, for which prices will no doubt go up after the release of this album.

Check it out and buy the album when it drops! This link won’t last forever. It’s had close to 18,000 downloads already and it’s been up less than 24 hours.

Tha Carter III

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