Get Carter

tha-carter-3_t.gifThe buildup has been ridiculously protracted and expectations concomitantly bloated, but Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. aka. Lil Wayne’s long-awaited sixth official solo album, Tha Carter III does not disappoint. It’s no It Takes a Nation of Millions or Illmatic, but could well be a Blueprint. In other words, not a masterpiece as an album, but still a thoroughly convincing statement of ownership on the part of its protagonist, with ample material shooting for classic status. Arguably the greatest, and certainly the most outstanding rap talent of his generation, Weezy here ups the ante of an already impressive career, taking his shit to superstar level.

He quite wisely opens the album with a 1-2 combination of sufficiently overblown ‘It’s-Been-a-Long-Time-I-Shouldn’t-Have-Left-You”-type shit. “3Peat” has him spitting a rambling up-from-nothing braggadocio over a monumental-sounding strings-and-bassdrum track, while the similarly grand strings and piano-driven “Mr. Carter” throws in a guest appearance from Wayne’s namesake, Shawn Carter aka. Jay-Z, who explicitly passes the torch to his younger colleague. The song ends on the note “Next time you mention Pac, Biggie and Jay-Z, don’t forget Weezy, Baby! — Amen.”

This kind of big talk was only to be expected from the self-styled ‘Best Rapper Alive’, but Wayne actually manages to make us believe his hyperbole by generously showcasing his central strengths as a rapper: the versatility of his flow, the ease of his delivery and the lyrical craziness resulting from his freestyle-based approach to rapping. You know, the kind where ‘yeast infection’ quite naturally leads to ‘geese erection.’ Occasionally, Wayne strings together something resembling traditional punchlines — often fun, often dumb, often both — but the prime appeal lies in his more freeform constructions, such as this rambling associative string from the magisterial “You Ain’t Got Nuthin’”:

“Got paper like A fax machine/
Asanin, Damn I mean/ Asinine, I’m Dappa Don/ And
after mine, there will be nine/
Damn I mean there will be none/
I will be one/
Of the greatest things you’ve ever felt you’ve ever seen/
Or heard, Car-ter’d/ Har-vard, ya’ll scared/
Not me, 
not I/
call me young Popeye/
Tell Bruno I’m a nuno/
I’ll bring ral to your funeral/
Damn I mean funeral, funerol/
You say tomato, I say tamata/
You say get ‘em, I say got ‘em/
Yeah I got ‘em…”

Thing is, you kinda have to be there, because it’s the flow that does it. Wayne brings the kind of innovation to flowing that was previously almost exclusively heard from underground trailblazers like the Freestyle Fellowship/Project Blowed MCs, and he does it smack-dap in a mainstream that these days seems increasingly stifling and bereft of originality. Tracks like the Kanye West-produced “Let the Beat Build” and the Cool & Dre-helmed “Phone Home” find themselves seemingly effortlessly wrapped in his constantly mutating vocal mercury. And then, of course, there’s Bangladesh’s choppy kick- and bass drum-built “A Milli” with its incessantly looped vocal sample. Surely the beat of the year, this is a quintessential freestyle track and sure enough spawning across a million mixtapes as we speak. And Wayne kills it better than pretty much everyone else who has tried their hand at it. It was tailor-made for him.

None of this, of course in itself makes for a hit album. Enter “Lollipop.” When he released this piece of synthetic fluff earlier this year, many fans thought he’d lost his mind — did he really need to sell out this blatantly? Of course he did; an album doesn’t go Gold on its release day and Platinum within a week, despite having been leaked, on its own. It was a smart, entirely calculated move, and it is paying off — plus the song actually ain’t that bad. Wayne’s madcap charm filtered through the autotuner makes what would otherwise be an entirely generic pop tune built on a thrice-tired sexual analogy a disarmingly infectious ode to hedonism.

The album’s other pop songs are hit-and-miss. The obligatory T-Pain-featured club track, “Got Money,” is pretty standard, but has a fired-up Wayne all over it, rapping and singing. And making it pretty great. It’s long been clear that he does well in the club, but fares rather less impressively when it comes to the slow jams. This time around, on “Tie My Hands”, he’s inexplicably brought out Babyface for another zacharine turn at flogging the dead horse of 90s-style bare-chest-in-the-rain histrionics, flossing every last scrap of fried chicken from between his bazooka teeth. And white boy candy crooner Robin Thicke not only sounds bland, but insincere, on the unfocused elegy for Wayne’s hometown New Orleans, “Tie My Hands.” Recover from your snooze with Wayne’s iconic Katrina verse on OutKast’s “Hollywood Divorce.”

But despite the drag factor of these songs, which are of course there for a reason, as well as a couple other throwaway tracks such as the imbecilic “Mrs. Officer,” Wayne manages to command our attention to the end. If he veers into bathos on his ballads, he does overblown pathos well, especially when it comes to inflating his ego as if there were no breaking point. On “Playing with Fire”, he talks — nay, screams — about checking into the same hotel as Martin Luther King and getting assassinated on the same balcony (!). Why anyone would wish to rub him out never figures into the equation, but it’s appropriately hubristic for an MC claiming a spot in the pantheon besides Biggie and Pac. Never mind that his “Me against the World”-posturing — thankfully, I should add — is obviously a studio invention. It’s so ridiculous it’s hilarious.

If one disregards an overlong spoken rant against Al Sharpton and other ills of the world at the end, which hijacks Nina Simone’s beautiful “Misunderstood,” the showstopper capping everything off is the aforementioned “Ain’t Got Nuthin’,” on which Fabolous and Juelz Santana spit venom over a choppy, synthed-up Alchemist beat with a mind to dislocate your headpiece. As a fun contrast to his compadres’ tough talk, Wayne closes with the above-quoted string of delicious nonsense and raspily floats the beat, singing about how he’s got money like a muthafucker and celebratorily declaring how we ain’t got nuthin’ on him. And with this entertaining, smart and virtuosic album in mind, who are we to argue?

Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III (2008), prod. by Maestro, Andrews Correa, Bangladesh, Kanye West, Cool & Dre, Swizz Beats, David Banner, Alchemist et. al. Official Site, Myspace. Read this review in Danish here.

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