Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Album of the Week:
Tha Carter III / Lil Wayne

There was a time when Lil Wayne was a kid rapper hanging out alongside Lil Bow Wow. There was a time when Lil Wayne was just another face on the label most famous for "Back That Ass Up." Then there came a time when Lil Wayne declared himself "The best rapper alive" - and those who nodded outnumbered those who didn't. Most fascinating about Lil Wayne is not his artistic growth, but that his ascension to the spotlight has occurred over a short period of time and without an official release. In 2006, Weezy made his famous proclamation on Dedication 2, an underground mixtape in DJ Drama's Gangsta Grillz series. High on internet buzz, Weezy became not just one of the most followed in hip hop, but a crossover sensation, whose name flew from the lips of Pitchfork critics and indie kids on a regular basis.

Weezy continued releasing street-level mixtapes in 2007, mostly freestyling over well-known beats ("Show Me What You Got," "Upgrade U," "This is Why I'm Hot"), decimating the MCs whose voices had graced the original. Wayne was asserting himself, and also displaying a unique vocal style. His delivery was often slow, barely catching the beat (and for that you can blame the mix of weed and syrup), but could also catch fire and spit at rapid-fire rate. What would come out of his mouth was anybody's guess. Tracks from the Carter 3 sessions leaked in abundance last year, and were collected and bootlegged by numerous half-assed DJs. All of the piracy and bootlegging built a mystique around Wayne, his crazy flows and tireless work ethic. When the official Carter 3 dropped last week, it was poised to be one of the biggest releases in recent memory.

C3 succeeds at capturing the many facets and contradictions of Lil Wayne. He does showcase his craziness right off the bat - with the urgent opener "3 Peat." Throughout the record, he pulls off a number of baffling lines - "We are not the same, I am a martian," he declares on "Phone Home," while "Mr. Carter" finds him being hated on by the four seasons. He makes multiple comparisons to Andre 3000, and while the OutKast rapper also has a penchant for alien connections, Andre's weirdness is charming, while Wayne's is frightening and unpredictable. Where the fuck does this guy come from? "I am a beast," he pronounced on last year's DJ Khaled collaboration "We Takin' Over," and Weezy is one that cannot be tamed. He's violent, horny, paranoid, political, offensive, cocky but a genuine wordsmith.

"Mr. Carter" and "Dr. Carter" are throwback hip hop, with the former featuring an appearance from Jay-Z. Jay once called himself the "best rapper alive," but judging from his verse, he's ready to pass the torch. "Dr. Carter" finds Wayne attempting to cure MCs who've lost their lyrical skill over a jazzy Tribe-like beat. Elsewhere, Wayne is paired up with a whose who of R&B singers (Babyface, Bobby Valentino, T-Pain), likely to add radio friendly hooks. "Tie My Hands" features extensive contribution from Robin Thicke, and is a Hurricane Katrina anthem that is a bit more rise up than the rise up with fists that was his 2006 tirade, "Georgia Bush."

It is possible to sedate Wayne for the masses - but he's at his most refined spitting fucked up rhymes over fucked up beats. "Lollipop" is an interesting choice for first single, and it manages to outweird Snoop's "Sensual Seduction" for oddest radio track of the year. "La La" is built around simply a xylophone and repetitive "la las"; Wayne seems right at home, but guest Busta Rhymes seems totally lost. There was a time when Busta passed for weird, but that time has passed. Weezy doesn't really need guest appearances, in fact they simply weigh him down. But if producers will keep handing him the most whacked out shit they can concoct, Wayne's going to be able to carry the load for everyone else.

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