Lil Wayne's "Carter III" a triumph on his own terms
Jul. 01, 2008
Comparing Lil Wayne to his contemporary peers seems literally futile by now. For instance, if we're basing it on album sales, we're forced to compare CIII to Rick Ross' Trilla. This seems as preposterous as, say, comparing an album that actually merits elaborate discussion to Trilla. He has simply outgrown such discussion to the point where the only sensible comparisons are outside of his field, most logically into a field Weezy would certainly appreciate.
At this year's U.S. Open, ESPN's Scott Van Pelt aptly described Tiger Woods as a man who simply defies hyperbole, even though this is all we are left to describe him with most of the time. And it often feels like there is little original thought left to describe the man after 14 major championships. The same can be said for Wayne, whose creative output combined with his "best rapper alive" claims (quick oft-ignored side note: What rapper hasn't referred to himself as the best there is in some form? Wale did it last month and dude doesn't even have a real album) have put him at a point where he could burp and sneeze over a snare beat and inspire more blogs than the new JR Writer mixtape (OK, maybe that doesn't say much, but you get the idea). And these boasts create the same outlook for Wayne that critics and odds-makers have made a habit of using in reference to Tiger: him versus the field.
And like Tiger, the only person out there who can really stop Wayne is Wayne. Between Tha Carter II and Tha Carter III innumerable things have left fans and critics alike terrified that this album may never come out: weed, gun charges, signing Tyga, weed, album leaks, syrup, autotuner. But on the heels of leaked Chinese Democracy tracks, the album billed with the simple task of saving hip-hop finally came out. And here's the thing: It's really good.
First off, the obligatory questions. Is it the rap album of the year? So far, yes. Is it Wayne's best album? Not quite. Is it his most accessible album? Absolutely. Will it save hip-hop? Hell if I know.
If Wayne as a whole is Tiger Woods, his decision process in making CIII seems loosely comparable to Colin Meloy's in putting together The Crane Wife. The album was The Decemberists' first on a major label and was expected to be a bid at mainstream success through a more relatable and simplistic sound. And they achieved this, but in the weirdest way possible (Meloy based this entire "accessible" album on an obscure Japanese folk tale). This is essentially what Wayne did on CIII, just, you know, without the Japanese folk tale. This is obviously Wayne's ploy for pop stardom, but his version of pop music still has enough classic moments of nonsensical brilliance to assure us we're still in Wayne's World.
This weirdness shines through on the concept-rap meets ER-themed "Dr. Carter," on which Wayne is given the task of reviving hapless whack rappers. Coincidentally, even though his guest spots saved the album sales of about half the rappers I would imagine Wayne is referring to, most of his patients actually die on this track. But then, in its closing seconds, he "saves hip-hop," his final patient. Let's face it - the plot of this track has all the potential for cheese. But Wayne's relaxed rhymes are so on-point it makes the track work. And he uses the term "geese erection." How seriously can you take something like that?
The two most ubiquitous pop-radio singles of the album, "Lollipop" and "Get Money," both come across as particularly forgettable within the landscape of a full album, which is a great relief. Nothing against either of these tracks, as they both feel like they will accomplish exactly what Wayne hoped they would ("Lollipop," featuring the late Static Major, certainly already had by the album release). Wayne just does so many more interesting things on this album to let a token sex jam and a song that sounds like a hybrid of about 50 other songs "T-Wayne" has already guested on in the last four months.
If "Lollipop" and "Get Money" are forgettable, "Mrs. Officer" and "La La" are downright loathsome. Calling "Mrs. Officer" a concept song seems to be giving it too much credit. At best, it's just a stoned fantasy about Wayne banging a lady cop, which is at least silly to relish in its absurdity for a minute or so ("And after we got done, I asked her for her number she said 911"). Oh yeah, and Bobby Valentino makes an annoying siren noise on the chorus, so that guy is still alive. "La La" competes with Valentino's hook for the most annoying chorus on the album, if you could even call it that. It's just a group of eerie baby-sounding la-la noises leading to a generic hustling/ballin' chorus. Wayne sounds bored and the cameos from Briscoe and Busta Rhymes stand out as some of the weakest on a project full of guest emcees who stepped their game up to new heights in Wayne's presence.
But aside from these, there isn't another weak track on the entire album. "A Milli" is a straight-up banger with a beat from Bangladesh absolutely worthy of the incessant YouTube freestyles it has garnered (Chris Brown? Really?). Wayne's got a fire under him reminiscent of Dedication 2 on "Playing With Fire" as he comes hard over a powerfully awesome soul chorus and spits some straight-up silly shit ("Osh B'Gosh, Posh Spice husband couldn't kick it like I kick it"). "Shoot Me Down" is the least Kanye-sounding beat Kanye has made in years, where Wayne raps over an ominous army-style march beat that works surprisingly well. He raps the lines "This is history in the making, so shut the fuck up and let me make up" with audacity. It's fun to hear him embrace his self-proclaimed place in rap with such gusto after enough verses in the last year to make even a workhorse like Wayne lazy.
"Let The Beat Build," another high watermark for Kanye's production, is a flat-out awesome meta-rap track where Wayne dances all around the beat before finally just rapping circles around it, and he sounds like he's having a ball the whole time. As usual. Wayne's infectious laughs and silly slurs alone make this hands-down one of the most fun albums of the year, an element severely lacking in rap these days outside of something like a Soulja Boy/Cool Kids concert.
"Nothin On Me" might inexplicably be the stand-out track on the album, with impeccable verses from a tandem competing stride for stride for top billing in Obscurity Monthly everywhere outside of New York: Fabolous and Juelz Santana (whose bit about herbs might actually take the cake as the brag of the album). But the crowning moment of the album comes on "Mr. Carter," a track where Wayne and his like-named idol Jay-Z banter back-and-forth with hot verses as if they are playfully tossing the ball back between each other. Jay then symbolically passes his torch to Wayne and asks him to go further ("if not, why bother") in a touching moment that will seemingly only gain significance and mystique as time goes on.