1520 Sedgwick Avenue/The Rap Review: June 20th, 2008 Friday, June 20, 2008Posted by Andy Hutchins in 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, Rockabye, The Rap Review.
Early! And with added Weezy review below!
It’s really, really hard to just pick five songs from these two tapes for this week, but this is the “Surviving the Times” remix, which is, besides the two already featured, the one song from Nas’ that I pick out most often.
Hit the jump for links to tapes and and that review.
Now, Weezy F. Baby. (You can find every song on YouTube. I didn’t want to do that part.)
If Tha Carter III is supposed to be a magnum opus, supposed to be the firestorm at the end of about three years of Internet slow burns and explosions, then it fails. Flat-out, this album is not better than any one of Lil Wayne’s mixtapes, especially Da Drought 3, the height of his word association- and weed-fueled destruction of practically every other rapper’s beats.
But I’m not sure it’s supposed to be that crowning moment for hip-hop, I think it has much to do with Wayne changing goals over his interesting maturation process, and I think that makes it a better album than that heat rock at the throne could have ever been.
That album wouldn’t have the undeniably poppy “Lollipop,” the only song here that could reign on MTV, Fuse, and the charts. It’s an utterly misogynistic and indulgent trifle with a conceit stolen from 50 Cent circa the last album to debut with more than a million sales and a killer line (“I let her lick the rapper” is as good a double entendre in the hip-pop half of the game in ages).
And that album probably wouldn’t have the simple incessant sample, tapping drums, and handclap of “A Milli,” which has, rightly or wrongly, become the summer anthem of the streets and the proving grounds for every rapper, aspiring or established; it couldn’t invite challengers like that beat has, or have a song better in sanitized, non-album version with a guest whose double-time flow eviscerates Weezy’s woozy drawl.
And that album certainly couldn’t have the interminable “Got Money,” the worst song I think T-Pain’s ever been on, a derivative, uninteresting pandering to the clubs that should’ve been cut when “Lollipop” was recorded.
And yet, that album couldn’t have things like “Comfortable,” or “Dr. Carter,” or “La La,” or “Phone Home,” four very different songs from four different Weezy Fs.
“Comfortable,” a smooth bit of string and guitar work and some soft drums from Kanye West, who reconfirms his producing chops in grand fashion on this album, revives Babyface from whatever shallow grave his career’s been in this century for the airiest threat on the album not involving Orville Reddenbacher, and flips the logic of “Irreplaceable” and other acoustic girl-power tracks by telling Weezy’s girl “If you don’t love me, somebody else will.” It’s the softer side of Wayne, and it would be a hit if summer weren’t for thumping.
The idea behind “Dr. Carter” is that Weezy’s the doctor charged with saving hip-hop. (Not sure I’d go to a doctor who’s best known for addictions to weed and lean, but I suppose this is missionary work.) And while he kills the first two patients, his third verse kills, with maybe the best lyric on the album (“Swagger tighter than a yeast infection/Fly, go hard like geese erection”), a quintessential Wayne line that no one else could pull off.
“La La,” which could have been recorded by your average kindergarten orff ensemble if it had rudimentary knowledge of how to work a drum machine and a vocoder, is half paean to Weezy F’s baby daughter, half guest spot for the rather forgettable Brisco and Busta Rhymes, who gleefully proclaims “Money fucking retarded/Call it Down Syndrome money” and talks his typical big talk. It feels intentionally juvenile, aided by a scatological chorus, but it’s silly and frothy and fully Wayne.
But “Phone Home” may be the most bizarre song in a while for a guy who’s been calling himself a Martian since at least 2006, an appropriation of the chiming theme from E.T. that stretches his alien metaphor to include Elian Gonzales, his rapper-eater persona to a shopper in a Target full of “fake hip-hop artists,” the line “I’m rare/Like Mr. Clean with hair,” the boast/admission “They don’t make ’em like this no more/Matter fact, they never made ’em like this before,” and the biggest, dumbest chorus on the album, which happens to knock like a land shark. It’s fantastic.
Hell, the weirder the metaphor, the more likely Wayne may be to stick it. On “Shoot Me Down,” where Kanye basically produces “P.S.A.” with a little less volume and a bit more nuance, Weezy spins three verses ostensibly about the evolution of his career, and ends up pointing a gun at his reflection. Somehow, it’s great.
And the album is propped up in a few instances by very good guest turns, as with the thoughtful musings of Robin Thicke and the Katrina/struggle talk of the silky “Tie My Hands,” (I read the Rolling Stone review right after finishing this, and they used elegiac; usually, I assign that to sad songs because I like the way the word looks, but it doesn’t quite fit here) the gritty New York swag of terrific verses from Fabolous and Juelz Santana on the sneering “You Ain’t Got Nuthin,” and the breezy Jay-Z verse on the breezy “Mr. Carter.”
(It was my point in other forums that Wayne doesn’t do nearly as good a job of defending his own turf as he does stealing the show, and that hurts his claim to be the “best rapper alive.” But I’ll get back to that.)
Elsewhere, though, Wayne is too busy aping other artists to be as interesting as he himself is: the anti-drug laws, anti-Sharpton rant at the end of the last track is too reminiscent of end-album soliloquies by Kanye and Lupe Fiasco to interest, and the point of the song preceding it, “Dontgetit,” is that, well, you can’t understand Dwayne Carter anyway, and “Playing with Fire,” which isn’t either sonically or verbally interesting, compares Wayne (“A little tounge-in-cheek,” he concedes) to Martin Luther King, and has a really irritating recurring slice of feedback.
And the most interesting thing for those songs is that I, on my third play-through of the album, as I am writing this, realized that each could be replaced by great mixtape hits: , the amazing, massive “I Feel Like Dying” for “Dontgetit,” and the throbbing, vital “Gossip” for the anemic “Playing with Fire.”
I think that speaks to a greater truth about Wayne: I’m not sure he’s capable of making a classic album because I’m not sure he can be coherent or stick to a theme for long enough, but I think he’s more artist than half of music will ever be, and I know his greatest songs, taken standalone, stand up to some of the most lyrically dextrous stuff hip-hop’s ever seen.
But I think that firestorm I talked about earlier was never the intent for Wayne on this album; rather, he was searching for the perfect balance on this album between the streets, the clubs, the drugs, and the beats, an actual album instead of an assault on the greats of the game.
And, in that respect, I think he succeeds in a big way; C3‘s a buffet and everyone can find their own delicacy.
That speaks to a lowering of the sights, a supposed concession that he’s not the best and never will be. But I think the difference is more subtle.
On “Mr. Carter,” which I’ve probably listened to more than any other song on the album, Jay’s got the killer line (“Young Carter, go farther, go further, go harder/Is that not why we came?/And if not, then why bother?”) that would be the eulogy if the song had been a knife fight, and claims he’s being “compared to the martyrs,” the greats not just of hip-hop but of civil rights.
But right after Jay’s verse comes Wayne’s closer, a flurry of non sequiturs: “And I’ma go so opposite of soft/Off the Richter/Hector/Camacho man/Randy Savage/Far from average/Above status quo/Flow so pro” then prods the listener, “Next time you mention Pac, Biggie, or Jay-Z/Don’t forget Weezy Baby!” as the song turns to its soulful sample and gospel choir outro. On “A Milli,” it’s a similar cognizance of the listener’s opinion that informs “They say I’m rapping like Big, Jay and Tupac/Andre 3000/Where is Erykah Badu at?”
And in the difference there between the top-everything mentality of Jay, the one he’s always had and always will, and Wayne’s current lofting of his name only into the conversation of the all-time greats, rather than over their heads, I see Wayne’s artistry, his incomparable nature (“Don’t compare me ’cause there ain’t nobody near me,” he says as “A Milli” wanes) and his greatness at being Wayne.
That’s what delineates the greats mentioned: ‘Pac’s the West Coast warrior-poet, a wounded thug; Big invented swagger and hustle; Jay redefined them; and, maybe most importantly, Andre 3000 (whose name gets dropped again on “Dr. Carter”) and Erykah Badu could be Wayne’s closest comparisons, uncompromising artists who dwell in their own worlds and only come out when necessary to drop their unconventional science.
When they stray from these things (Jay’s Kingdom Come, which felt a little like warmed-over lines and recycled beats, minus “Lost One,” and most of 3K’s flirtation with singing, which gave us the pop gem “Hey Ya” and reduced Idlewild to an album where the highlights were few and corresponded with his verses), hip-hop gets harder.
And, to me, Wayne doesn’t quite sound right boasting, or gun-talking. He’s been a recording artist since his middle teenage years, and he’s a drug addict; he’s a rock star, not a trap star or a rap star. He doesn’t care about showing up his fellow rappers; he’ll “lose” on a track so long as he’s done what he wants to do. He needs to blow minds with spacey, loosely chained verses of nothing but punch lines, not sensitive and fully realized themes, because those would constrain him; he’d be making an album of “Tie My Hands”-style condemnations of the government, and he needs the canvasses of “Phone Home” and “La La” and opening banger “3Peat” (where he asserts his level is inaccessible without “Space shuttle/Or a ladder that’s forever”) to express himself. He’s not quite a Martian, but he’s not fully of this planet, either.
Tha Carter III features more of that Lil Wayne and less of the facsimiles he trots out, and for that, it’s a very good album, well worth a purchase as a sonic delight.
It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s a monstrosity, and Wayne’s monstrosity.
Let it be.