Thursday, June 05, 2008

Lil' Wayne's Rap Fantasia

Warning: This is a really long post. Sorry.

"My milk pinker than Snagglepuss"

In the past I've praised Lil' Wayne for his improvisatory, giggly, allusion-riddled riddles, and, at the same time, I've lamented that he could not muster the lyrical focus to seize what, for the past three years, has rightfully been his moment. And by "I," I mean anyone who listens to rap music. So far, he has been unable to channel his free-associative rhymes and diffident non-flow into sustained, cohesive songs, which are, of course, the building blocks of a lasting album.

So what we've been asking Lil' Wayne to do is cement his dominance and ubiquity in the form of a classic album, but what makes Lil' Wayne great in the first place is at odds with what makes albums great. It's kind of like complaining that Shaquille O'Neal doesn't hit many threes. No, he doesn't. That's just not what he does.

Tough titties for your boy though because the anticipation and expectations surrounding Tha Carter III demand classic status to keep the mounting Wayne backlash at bay. Some people have been much harsher about his weaknesses than I just was, and even W.F.'s biggest supporters can point out what he doesn't do well. (Okay, his biggest supporters other than Birdman.) And it might be saying something if the question of Tha Carter III's classic status rests completely on whether or not Wayne can concentrate enough to make sense for an hour.

Not to spoil anything, but he is unable to do that in long stretches. The criticisms that have plagued him remain in place. Somehow, however, the album still feels great, whatever that has come to mean. What I posed in my analysis of Da Drought 3 was that Lil' Wayne was not the Best Rapper Alive as that position is presently defined, but he may prompt a new definition. No matter how I try to intellectualize it, no other rapper has made me laugh more, no other rapper has played with language better, and no other rapper has put out more impressive material over the past three years. Similarly, Tha Carter III may not be the classic album I was hoping for, but it may have ushered in an age for which I no longer know what a classic album is. Everyone involved in Tha Carter III pulls together to craft a hilarious, propulsive, intricate, unique work that, almost despite itself, succeeds.

Maybe all that is what Weezy means here when he raps, "My picture should be in the dictionary/Next to the definition of definition" Or that might be one of those instances in which he doesn't make sense. See how this is difficult?

- "Wayne, Just let me do a chorus. Let me have one hook where I'm just, like, cursing incoherently or mentioning that I'm your father."
- "You know what would actually be even better than that, Dad? If you weren't on the album at all. No, no, hear me out. See, everyone expects the number one stunna to come do some surgery over eight bars or yell 'Birdman' over a chorus. And for every song I give them without that stuff, they just want it more. Everybody's going to be listening to this and thinking, 'Where is Baby? I need me some Baby.' And it never comes. So they'll just be anticipating your solo album even more. It's genius."
- "What are bars again?"

Communicating this central conflict of the album, the thin line between genius and goofiness, is as easy as taking each song, in descending order of badassery, and grouping the best line with the worst line. So I'll do that with no further adieu.

1. "Let the Beat Build"- A pretty simple soul sample cut-and-pasted by Kanye West builds as the title suggests until it reaches the logical conclusion of Wayne cramming as many syllables as he can over a dirty 808. It's summer music that makes you feel good, and it isn't much more complicated than that.

Best line: "Or the wave pool at Blue Bayou/And I wave, fool, as I blew by you"
Blue Bayou is a water park about forty-five minutes west of New Orleans if you're scoring at home. Word play and one of the most arcane references on the album.
Worst line: "If I hop out--that be suicide/No back seats, call that paralyze/I don't have a spine, I don't fantasize"
Like, because if someone were paralyzed they would have to take seats out of the car to make room for a wheelchair? Or is the car not functional from the back on, just as someone's legs wouldn't work if he were paralyzed? And I'm pretty sure people who don't have a spine fantasize all the time--about having a spine if nothing else.

2. "A Milli"- To be fair, this is just innane freestyling, which even producer Bangladesh seems upset about and which seems to be exactly the thing I railed against at the top of this post. But it's awesome. When I play it in my car, the bass makes my keys shake.

Best line: "Got the Maserati dancin' on the bridge trunk poppin'/Tell the coppas ha ha ha ha/You can't catch em, you can't stop 'em"
I don't think Weezy takes a breath for the entire second half of the verse, and I get goosebumps at the maniacal laugh he pants here.
Worst line: "I don't owe you like two vowels"
This is the perfect representation of the type of line that anyone else would be ridiculed for but that Lil' Wayne gets praised for. It doesn't really mean anything. Yes, "o" and "u" are vowels, but that's not the way similes work. This makes my head hurt.

3. "Mr. Carter"- A huge thing the album has going for it is that everyone involved knew a lot of people would be hearing this, so everyone came to play, including Jay-Z, who kind of does the same thing Wayne is trying to do, but with more swagger and character in his voice.

Best line: (Jay) "Far from being the bastard that Marcy had fathered/Now my name's being mentioned with the martyrs/The Biggies and the Pacs, the Marleys and the Marcuses"
I like the bourgeois quality of referring to one person as "a Biggie" or "a Pac."
Worst line: "And when they snooze, we up/Feet up like a parapalegiac/Or parapalegiac, I parallel park"
Whatever. Someone needs to educate him about the handicapped.

4. "Nothin' on Me"- What I wrote above about guest stars stepping their games up definitely applies here, as Fabolous and Juelz Santana kill this Alchemist beat and, once again, beat Lil' Wayne at his own game.

Best line: The entire Fab verse, but especially "Have you in the trunk curled up like fried shimp."
Worst line: "Get you three-four, get you/Like the number after one, I'mma get me two.
I don't know what that means.

5. "Dr. Carter"- This, for better or worse, is one of the most thematically consistent songs on the album, and it's sold in part by Wayne's hilarious voice-acting ("Where is my coffee..."). He definitely buys into this, and we do too, even if it's hokey. Also, sidebar, how good of a doctor is he if the only patient who lives is the one who was pretty well off to begin with? Anyway...

Best line: "But I'm a doctor so they don't understand my writing." I also really love "And that was called recycling/Or re-reciting something cause you just like it/So you say it just like it"
Worst line: "Swagger tighter than a yeast infection/Fly, go hard like geese erection." This is probably the dumbest line on the album.

6. "Shoot Me Down"- This is another Kanye joint, and it has this really weird, off-time snare shuffle, as if someone is playing sloppily and letting each stick hit twice. Tempo-wise, this is something much different from anything else on Tha Carter III. The driving bass line kind of guides Wayne in circles, and it's definitely got a slower beats-per-minute than anything else here but still isn't quite a ballad. Also look out for Wayne's terribly self-indulgent guitar solo.

Best Line: "Pappa, I did it to 'em, I'm a bastardAnd I'mma do it again, like nigga backwards"
Worst line: I would go with the definition of definition thing I quoted at the beginning. But there aren't many clunkers on this track.

"We the best. We, nigga. We takin' over. That's why I need to jump on this. I feel you for not wantin' Birdman. He don't represent the hood. He's not starvin'. But you gotta let me curse incoherently on one of the intros. I'm starvin'. [sobbing] We the best?"

7. "Comfortable"- The only leaked song that still made the album, (By the way, where's "Gossip"? I really wanted to hear that here, but instead I have to settle for it being an iTunes bonus track.) this one succeeds based on almost everything but Wayne. Kanye takes basically the same drum pattern from "Everything I Love" and drags Babyface away from his money long enough to croon a truly memorable hook. Most of the time when rappers make a love song--someone like 50 Cent, for instance--it feels like a manipulative business move, but Wayne genuinely seems to want to please women and believably wants their attention. Napoleon complex I guess.

Best line: "You know I work you out like Bowflex"
It's fun to picture Wayne doing anything normal, including watching late-night Bowflex commercials. Try it. Picture Weezy balancing his checkbook with "All My Children" in the background. It never fails.
Worst line: "And don't I treat you like souffle?"
That all depends how you treat souffles I suppose.

8. "Playin' with Fire"- One of the more bombastic pieces of music on the record with stellar live vocals.

Best line: "When you're great it's not murder, it's assassinate/So assassinate me, bitch/'Cuz I'm doin' the same shit Martin Luther King did/Checkin' in the same hotel in the same suite, bitch/ Same balcony like 'assassinate me, bitch"
I could just as easily make fun of this--he's organizing bus boycotts?--but it's shit-talking of the highest order, and the way Wayne's voice cracks on that last line, as if he's actually shouting it from a balcony, is the type of detail that sets this work apart.
Worst line: "See, I get better with time like a watch/Osh B'Gosh, Posh Spice husband"
Formula for a bad Wayne couplet: obvious simile that technically is not true, followed by a half-finished '80s baby reference that goes nowhere.

9. "3 Peat"- This one's subject matter jumps around a bit too much, but it's not bad for an intro.

Best line: "Two more inches I'd have been in that casket/According to the doctor, I could've died in traffic"
The near-death anecdote is perfect myth-making to contextualize an album of this grandeur.
Worst line: (tie) "I'm just doin' this shit for my clique like Adam Sandler"
Wayne: Curren$y:: Adam Sandler: Allen Covert
"But you cannot see me like Hitler"
When Wifey first heard that, she was like, "Was Hitler blind? I don't get it. Can we not see him because he's dead?" No, dear, you were a valedictorian and National Merit Semi-Finalist. Don't let Lil' Wayne's laziness call into question your knowledge of the most infamous figure of all time. I'm pretty sure you would have heard about it if he were blind. Wayne does not know something you don't. If Weezy had said something about Hitler having one testicle though, I would have been all over this.

10. "Phone Home"- This song is one of those terrible ideas Wayne has that no one calls him out on, but David Banner's beat kind of knocks once it really gets going.

Best line: "They don't make 'em like me no more/Matter fact, they never made 'em like me'"
Maybe the most iconic moment of the album.
Worst line: "And yet I'm a bear/Like black and white hair/So I'm polar"
I don't know what this means.

11. "La La"- Definitely one of the more lyrically consistent cuts. Weezy seems to have actually written this down before rapping it, and the rejuvenated Busta Rhymes tears it up as well.

Best line: "I am hotter than the after Saturday"
Worst line: This one's pretty solid. Nothing stands out.

12. "Lollipop"- At some point, I really liked this, but I've heard it about a thousand times since. There's this guy I know from New York who hates southern rap, and I made him a CD with absolute fire from Dedication 2 and The Carter Sessions and Drought 3, and he said he "didn't get it." But when this blew up, he was like, "I was completely wrong about Wayne. I'm feelin' that 'Lollipop' song." And I guess that's what Wayne was trying to do, so I can't hate on it.

Best line: "Told her to back it up like erp, erp/And make that ass jump like jerp, jerp"
I'm a sucker for onomotapoeia.
Worst line: (even though I say it at least once a day) "Call I can make it juicy for ya"

13. "Got Money"- Condescending garbage. I actively dislike the songs from here on out.

Best line: "DJ show me love, he say my name when the music stop/[drop the beat] Young Money, Lil' Wayne, then the music drop"
Something Lil' Wayne does expertly on this album is teaming with the producers to include little flourishes into the beats so that he can interact with them. I really liked this detail. Of course, I love the Winn-Dixie name-check in the intro too. I think a rapper could just babble really esoteric details about New Orleans, and I'd dig it. Get on that, Brisco. Do a song about almond cream sno-balls at Plum Street. No homo.
Worst line: "I was bouncing through the club/She loved the way I diddy bop/I see her boyfriend hatin' like a city cop"
I can't put my finger on it, but he's stealing this from some other song of his. Weak.

14. "Tie My Hands"- Really fruity Robin Thicke-aided nonsense. I mean, apparently "The sky is falling, and the only thing that can save us now is sensitivity and compassion." This is one of those songs that blames "They" for everyone's problems without ever really specifying who "They" are. It should be noted that Weezy sounds pretty focused here, however.

Best line: "My shoulders are strong, I prove them wrong/I ain't doing nothin but movin on, let the truth be known/But they talk that freedom matters, and didn't even leave a ladder, damn"
He gets pretty convincingly worked up here.
Worst line: "So, accept my emotion/Do not take it as an offensive gesture/It's just the epitome of my soul."
See, I say all of this stuff about how he has to craft real songs and be poignant, and then I make fun of him when he tries. I'm a terrabull critic.

15. "Don't Get It"- Weezy is educating us with important messages. Seriously. This isn't him high off his ass rambling on subjects about which he is completely uninformed. This starts out with some perfect, subtle imagery and some killer lines, then devolves into conspiracy theory and barbershop philosophy. Pretty much the whole song I was hoping he would stop before he made himself sound like more of an idiot.

Best line: "Excuse my French, emotion in my passion/But I wear my heart on my sleeve like it's the new fashion"
That's about as emo as that Leona Lewis song about bleeding hearts.
Worst line: "Mister Al's why I don't respect you...and nobody like you...see, you're the type who...gets off on gettin' on other people...that's not good--no homo...and rather un-human...I should say...I mean, given the fact that humanity--well, good humanity, helping one another, no matter your color or race...but this guy and people like him...they'd rather speculate before they...informate."
Wayne for president! When he's talking for the second half of this screed, he sounds like that guy in the Tanqueray commercials.

16. "Mrs. Officer"- Wayne and Bobby Valentino fuck a cop. He makes her go "wee-oh--wee-oh-wee." You know, like a siren. It's probably one of Birdman's ideas.

Best line: "And she know I'm raw, she know it from the street/And all she want me to do is fuck the police"
Worst line: "I said, 'Lady, what's ya number, she said nine-one-one/Haaa... emergency only"
Just in case you didn't catch it. "Rodney King/Beat it like a cop" was a close second.

So yeah, all jokes aside, it's a great album that continues the streak of Lil' Wayne's reign and should expose him to new audiences. I would have exchanged a song or two there for something in his vaults, (or included the surprisingly good Cory Gunz version of "A Milli") but I was actually surprised by the restraint in the sequencing. He definitely could have pushed the running time further but decided to call it a day. And no skits!

Warts and all, I think Tha Carter III is the album that will be wafting out of cars all summer, and it's a perfect comment on the evolution of Lil' Wayne and his role in hip-hop at large. Throw it into the time capsule.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nicely done