Monday, June 9, 2008

Record Review: Lil' Wayne: Tha Carter III

'Bout damn time.

Rating: 4/5

It’s here! Yes, music’s most divisive figure has finally released his long-awaited/long Tha Carter III, and it’s arriving in a big way: badass/hilarious cover art, #1 hit single, guest appearance from ex-Best Rapper Alive and a slew of beats from, uh, Best Producer Alive, pre-release leak controversy, and so on. Most fans either love him or hate him, and with the indie crowd, there’s generally more animosity than worship.

Admittedly, I have traditionally resented Mr. Carter’s off-kilter rasp, crunk-ish beats, and insistence on rapping on every single newly released hip-hop album (and that last one’s really only a slight exaggeration). However, with all the massive hype that built up around TC III, I had to give Lil’ Wayne a chance, approach his music with an open mind, set aside my East Coast bias for 80 minutes to try hear what all the fuss is really about. After all, when a guy’s proclaiming “Hip-hop, I saved your life” (on the jazzy, rapper-as-doctor metaphor “Dr. Carter”), and people don’t laugh him out of the room, it’s hard to ignore.

And certainly, now is the time to either jump on the bandwagon or get out of the way. Yes, Lil’ Wayne’s absurdly prolific, truly triumphant 2007 brought him a huge wave of critical acclaim, but it left something to be desired. Namely, the proper follow-up to his breakthrough Tha Carter II, the much-anticipated full-length that would truly cement his position as an all-time great (at least in eyes of Weezy himself and his followers). In this sense, the portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-child album cover is fitting: Tha Carter III is supposed to be Lil’ Wayne’s Illmatic, his Ready to Die, the classic needed to justify Wayne’s insistence that “when you mention Pac, Biggie, and Jay-Z/Don’t forget Weezy, baby!”

Well, it’s nowhere near the level of either Nas’ or Biggie’s best work, nor that of Jay-Z, nor that of 2Pac. However, consider me somewhat of Wayne convert: the disarmingly clever rhymes, inventive cadences, and outside-the-box voice inflections showcased on TC III are always refreshing and, when Weezy succeeds, damn near irresistible. The beats don’t always live up to the rapper, and the album would be better at three quarters the length, but the record, though far from perfect, is ultimately a success.

As far as standouts go, the Just Blaze-produced, Jay-Z-assisted “Mr. Carter” reigns supreme, the kind of sweeping, lush work Blaze has been doing for nearly a decade now, with the two highest profile MCs on the planet dropping inspired, top-notch lines over top. While Common’s Finding Forever and his own Graduation LP seems to have depleted Kanye West’s bag of tricks, the several beats he provides here are nonetheless exceptional, and Weezy tears them up: the sparse, solemn, deeply soulful “Tie My Hands,” which finds Lil’ Wayne reflecting on the effects of Hurricane Katrina on his hometown of New Orleans, is to TC III as “Roses” was to Late Registration, while “Let the Beat Build,” though a relatively unimaginative use of an strong initial sample, is welcome contrast to the some of the more ringtone-sounding, non-sample-reliant production on the album. “A Milli” finds Lil’ Wayne dropping some of his best rhymes (my favorite being “I don’t owe you like two vowels”), and he sounds just as razor sharp on the strange, Weezy-as-alien “Phone Home,” a track that would be a truly WTF moment for any other rapper, but is a perfect character sketch for this particular artist.

What shouldn’t have made the cut? The Busta Rhymes/Brisco-assisted “La La” is irritating from the start, and becomes a complete trainwreck after Wayne finishes the opening verse. “Playin’ With Fire” lays the piano/synthesized guitar melodrama on unbearably thick, while Weezy spits some bullshit about being like assassinated like MLK or something. The Juelz Santana/Fabolous-assisted “You Ain’t Got Nuthin’” is listenable but boring and unoriginal, and the last six minutes of 10-minute closer “Don’t Get It (Misunderstood),” during which Wayne criticizes (speaking, not rapping) Reverend Al Sharpton, is worth one listen, but no more.

And then there’s “Lollipop,” which I have tried so hard to hate and dismiss as 2008’s “Crank That,” but simply can’t. The song features little rapping (and it’s some of the worst on the album), but the refrain is just sooooo irresistibly catchy. It’s doesn’t have a whole lot of staying power, but my feelings on “Lollipop” pretty much represent my feelings on Lil’ Wayne in general: the more I listen, the more it sucks me in, strangely alluring, totally unparalleled…it’s good thing, then, that, as Weezy asserts on “Mr. Carter,” “two words [we’ll] never hear…‘Wayne quit’.”


Andrew said...

I'm likin this and lovin fleet foxes. Can't seem to get into Nouns as much... and while I'm running down the Heavy Rotation, haven't heard Islands and still masturbate to Ghost Colours every night.

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