Tha Carter III
Commercial success has largely eluded Li’l Wayne for most of his solo career. The second installment of his three-part series, Tha Carter, was received with open arms from fans and critics alike for its gritty street lyrics and big talk, but the two main singles, “Shooter” and “Fireman,” were largely overshadowed by the dance-rap phenomenon that pervaded major radio and TV outlets at the time.
Nearly three years later, after dozens of official and unofficial mixtapes, Wayne has honed his lyrical talent and released “Tha Carter III,” which as I type this, is on course to be the best-selling album of 2008, with one million copies sold the first week.
“Tha Carter III” is noticeably shorter than the previous two, but the album is also packed with heavier and more substantive material than the others. “3Peat” opens the album with some of Wayne’s most braggadocios rhymes and prepares the listener for the rest of the album, which is loaded with abstract punchlines and metaphors, some of which are just plain weird. Weird is good though, especially when every rapper wants to sound like Soulja Boy. Every rapper should want to sound like Wayne though, especially since he recently beat out Soulja Boy for the top-selling ringtone of all time with “Lollipop.”
Though it started out pretty small, “Lollipop” has grown to become one of the most popular singles of the year, and even if you’re not familiar with Wayne, you probably still know the infectious, R&B influenced “Lollipop,” featuring the recently deceased Louisville native Static Major. “Lollipop” essentially proves that the general public does not care how good of a rapper you are, as long as your single is catchy and easy to sing along to. There’s one part in the song where Wayne doesn’t even do anything for four bars except repeat “Yeah,” with his southern bullfrog croak. The beat backs it up though and most people probably don’t even notice.
If there’s one thing that “Tha Carter III” has, it’s incredible production from people like Swizz Beatz, Kanye West, and David Banner, probably one of the main reasons it’s taken the album so long to come out. Produced by the elusive Bangladesh, “A Millie” gets my vote for hottest beat of the year, and the second track, “Mr. Carter,” features some soulful production from Just Blaze and a guest verse from Wayne’s main influence, Jay-Z. One of Wayne’s rhymes in the first verse might turn away purists, but explains much of the newfound fascination with Wayne over the last few years. “I’m gonna need a coupe. I won’t need a roof/ Flyer than Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice” shows that Wayne just doesn’t care anymore and that we’re going to have to take him as he is. These strange lyrics give Wayne a human appeal that most rappers, barring Kanye West, really don’t have anymore.
“The Carter III” isn’t all silly punchlines and club tracks though. “Phone Home” and “Dr. Carter” show Wayne mastering his concepts. On “Phone Home,” Wayne takes on the persona of an alien rapper, making for a pretty good song, something that up-and-comers will surely take notes on. But Wayne really shines on “Dr. Carter,” where he takes on the role of a doctor, whose duty is to revive dying rappers. Wayne’s delivery is near perfect on this track and lyrics like “Fast and exciting, my passion is frightening / Now lemme put some more vocab in your I.V.” show that the originator of “Bling Bling” has stepped his game up quite a bit since the days of the Hot Boys.
On “Tie My Hands,” Wayne and Robin Thicke collaborate once again and show that their chemistry in the studio is something not to be looked over. Wayne uses the soulful production on this track to his advantage and discusses the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in his hometown. His delivery and lyrics make this song one of the best on the album and when Wayne says “No governor, No help from the mayor/Just a steady beating heart and a wish and a prayer” with such raw emotion, you almost feel like you’re right there with him.
“Tha Carter III” is easily the best commercial rap album since Kanye West’s “Graduation.” However, there is one dismal failure towards the end and that is “Mrs. Officer,” where Bobby Valentino, one of the today’s most bland, faceless R&B singers, comes off of hiatus to help Wayne sing about having sex with police officers? This might be Wayne’s attempt at an abstract R&B-influenced “F*ck The Police” record, but it just comes off as a weird and misguided, not to mention that it’s just an awful beat to begin with.
The closer, “Misunderstood,” isn’t nearly as bad, but no hip-hop song should be nine minutes long, and Lil Wayne simply loses his passion about halfway through the rapping part of the song. The rest of the song is just Wayne rambling on about overcrowded jails, racist drug laws, sex offenders, and Al Sharpton, stuff that people who aren’t touring 300 days out of the year are probably already up on. It’s enlightening for those who aren’t though, so he definitely gets credit for trying.
I doubt if “Tha Carter III” solidifies Wayne’s self-proclaimed title “Best Rapper Alive,” but I think a more appropriate title would be “America’s Favorite Rapper,” just from looking at the ringtone and album sales. This is easily his best album yet, but I think he has some more tricks up his sleeve. If Wayne doesn’t go the way of Amy Winehouse, he definitely has a classic album in his future. After all, the guy is only 25 years old. —Aaron Frank