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The Great Lil Wayne Debate:
Is Tha Carter III a Classic?

Guide by Jonah Weiner, Nick Sylvester, Josh Eels, and Robert Christgau

This past Tuesday (6/10), Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III finally hit stores, a week after it leaked online. It's the New Orleans MC's sixth LP, and the most anticipated hip-hop release of the year. In an online-exclusive roundtable, unfolding throughout the week, panelists Jonah Weiner (Blender senior editor), Nick Sylvester (writer and riffmarket.com blogger), Josh Eells (Blender senior editor) and Robert Christgau (Blender contributing editor) debate the burning question: Does it live up to the hype?

  1. Opinion: Jonah Weiner
  2. Opinion: Nick Sylvester
  3. Opinion: Josh Eels
  4. Opinion: Robert Christgau
  5. Opinion: Jonah Weiner
  6. Opinion: Nick Sylveter
  7. Opinion: Josh Eels
  8. Opinion: Robert Christgau


1: Jonah Weiner

Dear Nick, Josh and Bob,

Finally. Last week, Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination and Tha Carter III leaked. Today, it's in stores for real. African-Americans and white, Volvo-owning, sizzurp-sipping elites, this is your now!

Bridging the gap between these two events, sorta, is Jay-Z, who released "A Billi" over the weekend. A remix of Tha Carter III's monstrous "A Milli," the song features two fewer verses but, you know, three more zeroes at the end, because Jay-Z is very rich. It also features hip-hop's highest-profile Obama love to date: "Brrrap! Brrrap! Lick a shot for Brrrack Obama/ Change gon' come or I'mma buy the whole 'hood llamas." (Llamas, I learned when T.I. came to the Blender offices a couple years ago and schooled me, are pistols--ironic that he was the one to tell me since his llama farm wound up biting him in the ass last October). Disappointingly, at no point in the song does Jay-Z utter the phrase, "Barack-a-Fella, y'all," but I'm holding out hope for the remix to the remix. (Funny enough, Juelz Santana likened himself and Lil Wayne to Obama on the 2007 Roc-a-Fella taunt "Black Democrats"--they were the new breed running Jay and Nas "out of office"--but that non-beef is apparently squashed.)

The fact that "A Milli" proved so irresistible to Jay-Z seems to reinforce my hunch: If this isn't the single of the summer, it's got to be the street single of the summer. When you live in New York City, this basically amounts to the same thing. It's the nasty-ass loogie every other car radio is going to hock, stinking and sizzling, onto the asphalt. This is momentous for Wayne. A decade into his career, he's never before been a summer-dominating hopeful (two excellent flame-themed singles notwithstanding), which speaks to his stunning transformation from regional novelty to the rock star Jay-Z calls "my heir." How did he get here?

Nor has Wayne ever been a No. 1 pop artist, an injustice the sex jam "Lollipop" has rectified for the last four weeks and counting. It's funny that "A Milli" and "Lollipop" are Tha Carter III's two lead singles, though, because they're so perfectly opposite. The former is a four-minute rumble, all steamrolling punch lines and no chorus; the latter is nothing but chorus, with one punch line repeated over and over. I like "Lollipop," but there's something cynical about it. A virtuoso MC:

1) muffles his wit, foregoes his rhythmic acrobatics, essentially deep-sixes his virtuoso-MC-ness, 2) cribs a Blow-Pop-as-penis metaphor from 50 Cent, cribs the phrase "lady lumps" from Fergie, cribs a beat from Mims, cribs the rest from T-Pain, and 3) enjoys the biggest hit of his career for his not-very-much trouble.

Which brings me here: After releasing a rough average of 137 brilliant mixtapes a day for the last two years (curious readers are advised to download standouts Dedication 2, Da Drought 3 and LilWeezyAna Vol. 1), the pressure was on Wayne to prove he could translate his gray-market genius to an old-fashioned, capital-A album. When rap heads draw a line between albums and mixtapes, I think the distinction they intend is between a cohesive collection of songs and a wild collection of ideas. So, did Lil' Wayne pull it off on Tha Carter III? What are the demands of one medium versus the other, and how does Wayne balance them here? And, anyway, do we even want "songs" from Wayne, when the alternative (non-sequitur-rich, tangent-chasing, de-centered material like "Sportscenter," "C.O.L.O.U.R.S," "Dough is What I Got," or "Live from the 504," for example) is so fantastic?

Oh, and while we're at it, what's your favorite track, and which one do you already skip?

Yours Trilli,
Jonah


2: Nick Sylvester

Josh Jonah Bob--

I like to shit in the sink every now and then, too; that doesn't make me a Martian. Let's talk "Phone Home," wherein our hero recycles his fourth-best line from his 2006 "Show Me What You Got" freestyle and uses it for his jump-off; wherein he makes preemptive reference to his physical likeness to E.T. (though I always thought the dreads put him in Predator's camp); wherein Wayne plays the Martian card against anyone who dares compare or cramp or criticize: "We are not the same/ I am a Martian." Well! As someone who makes a buck off the occasional stunt, I feel obliged to point out that I hold my Martians to a high standard.

It's a tall claim for any artist to make, that he's beyond criticism. That one's style is so bastardly, so autonomous and/or hermetically sealed, that to hate is to not-fathom. I'll ride--I always do--but you better take me somewhere good. Remember when Will Smith said the parents just don't understand? Then just sorta left it at that? What a prince. With Bel-Air he even gave parents a second chance to get with it (I refuse to use the J-word), and you better believe Beth and Barry Sylvester had the rap game figured out by the time Jim West got "Wild Wild" in 1999. Which is to say, there was nothing more Will Smith wanted in this world than for parents to understand. They gave up after "Big Willie Style," of course. So did Big Willie.

Likewise, remember that post-Smith rapper named Young Jeezy. In 2005 the Atlanta rapper wrote off his lazy pen as evidence of street tough. What fools we were! No true trapper has the time to write good lyrics! Hardly a seamless garment, gangsta rap came apart because suspension of disbelief became passe, yet Jeezy made those rags work for him, wore them like a wave cap. "Denzel Washington-ass niggas, that's what I call them," Jeezy said on Can't Ban the Snowman. "They good actors." Am I the Dr. Dre of rap critics? Maybe the Q-Tip? I ride! You always let me. And like you, just like you, I enjoyed exploring the ins and/or outs of another myth of authenticity, not to debunk but to swim in it, not to ethnologize but to draw the dots from rap's self-immolating fix for the real to Oprah's long knives for James Frey to the rapid proliferation of gonzo porn to the heavy-edit paradox of reality television. We gave each other space and not the evil eye. On and on and on.

But so, anyway, Martians. Lil Wayne. Tha Carter III. "Phone Home" is as close as we're gonna get to an entry point into Wayne's World. We can try to divine his one-liners for some kind of sequential logic: "Like I bought it from Target" into "Hip-hop is my supermarket/ Shopping cart full of fake hip-hop artists" into "I'm starving, sorry, I gotta eat all it/ And I be back in the mornin'" makes sense to me, coming from the Rapper Eater. But this is tiring, and tedious, trying to carve out some narrative from his free association--trying to get inside Wayne's head. Doesn't taste good. I got Jobs on the brain, granted, but Wayne's asking us to think different. Quintessentially Southern, he's a lyricist using words in a non-lyrical way, keeping his verse on the same level of importance as the beat and the delivery and the attitude.

What's tough is that not all the beats knock, yet almost every line is a money shot. It's distracting, overwhelming in a way (say) that a Bun B record never will be. I don't think you're supposed to be able to rap along with Wayne or, like a Magic Eye, key into anything grander. Rather--and this is what Jonah was getting at, and I agree, cue the curtain--the fact is that Everything Is A Mixtape. Rather rather, A Sizable Amount of Our Culture Is Disseminated And/Or Processed Mixtape-Like. And ? this is tough ? maybe we're not supposed to make it through every track. It's not that Wayne is beyond criticism, just that he's beyond a certain kind of it. The lazy kind. The kind that wants to turn everything anybody ever does into some kind of Statement, to put everything into context. The kind that dares eat a Rapper Eater. Well! This is reality, Greg. May you die slow.

Nick

P.S. My favorite track is "Dr. Carter"; the one I skip is "Playing With Fire," or whichever one it is where Wayne compares himself to Martin Luther King.


3: Josh Eels

My fellow Wayniacs,

I'll start with a confession. As much as I love them, I've always found Lil Wayne's mixtapes a wee bit exhausting. Brilliant and unrelenting, they're best when dipped into judiciously, like an America's Next Top Model marathon or the stash of Thin Mints in your office kitchen. Which is why Tha Carter III may be the first Lil Wayne album that I can play all the way through. Yeah, Everything Is a Mixtape, and Paul Is Dead, and Weezy Is God, and All Your Base Are Belong To Us. But this capitalist cash-in does just what an album is supposed to do: It hangs together, it flows, it lives, it breathes. For me Wayne's biggest weakness has always been his suspect taste in beats--the reason those two flame-themed singles Jonah mentioned never took off the way they should have. With Carter III Wayne finally has a slate of A-list tracks all his own, while making fewer concessions to capital-P Pop than you'd expect an artist as weird as him to have to. And while I'll agree that jacking Fergie and T-Pain is a tad cynical, if it means more songs as irresistible as "Lollipop," well then, carry on, sir. (Although just for the record, I prefer the remix.)

I'm not sure I buy Nick's claim that Wayne's stream-of-consciousness raps defy parsing, or that he doesn't privilege lyrics over beats (or at least sounds). Sure, anyone who rhymes enemy with sympathy with energy with Eric Bienemy is a guy who gets off on hearing himself croak. But Wayne futzes with words in a way that only a true language lover can--punning without shame, jumbling syntax, even mangling pronunciation when it suits his purposes. Eff a Martian; he reminds me of another little green dude who also lives on a planet all by himself. (Same eyes too.) This is all the more impressive for the fact that Wayne does it all while seemingly high as freaking balls. It's the reason he's always rapping about Funyuns and soufflés and eating stars. On "Don't Get It" you can even hear him toking up--which may explain the lovably bizarre ten-minute monologue about mandatory drug sentencing and how Al Sharpton's race-baiting is tearing America apart.

That rant takes me back to a point Jonah made glancingly: Could Wayne be hip-hop's Obama? He's certainly got the herb-love. Also, as Bob has pointed out elsewhere, a guy who's spent most his life as a professional musician couldn't possibly have sold half the coke or murked half the bodies that Wayne claims in his raps--but that doesn't mean I don't get goosebumps hearing him talk about it. Rhetoric over reality! Deval Patrick, get at him! Wayne's label is predicting a first-week turnout of a milli, which sounds like record-company bullshit, but these days who knows? Can we reasonably expect Carter III to be the biggest cross-demo uniter since, like, "Umbrella"? Yes we can!

Oh, and Nick, good looking on the Will Smith tip. (Although considering how much Wayne loves sharks, I bet he prefers Oscar to Jim West.) The Willie-Weezy comparison is actually one Wayne makes himself, in one of my favorite lines from "A Milli": "Boy I got so many bitches like I'm Mike Lowrey/Even Gwen Stefani said she couldn't doubt me." Unless he's talking about this guy?

As for my favorites: "Phone Home" is the best song about E.T. since Neil Diamond's "Heartlight." "Mrs. Officer" is the best song about fucking police since "Fuck Tha Police." "Dr. Carter" is ingenious--but a 2-out-of-3 patient death rate? Lil Wayne is not a very good doctor! The only song I skip is "La La," and that's because it reminds me of a troubling encounter with Disney's It's a Small World ride.

One thing I'm curious to hear from you, Bob, is your take on Wayne's sexual politics. Here's a guy who's never been shy about pleasing the ladies (check two of my favorite mixtape tracks, "Pussy Monster" and "Prostitute," neither of which made the album), but who's also got a stubborn antifeminist streak. As someone who's never let anyone off the hook for misogyny, how do you feel about Wayne's treatment of women in song? Also, isn't "Let the Beat Build" incredible?

Extraterrestrially yours,
Josh


4: Robert Christgau

Dear Young People--

To quote our hero, I'm me. Four decades older than my fellow bloggers and writing about hip-hop before they were alive or at least out of diapers, which is not a casual metaphor. But despite this bona fide, I'm not a hip-hop person the way they are--especially Nick and Jonah. I am downloading-impaired (wasted 15 minutes this morning trying to cop LilWeezyAna Vol. 1), buy mixtapes only when someone like Nick tells me to twice, never listen to hip-hop or any other kind of radio because I'm too busy playing CDs, and dance to hip-hop maybe once a year, one of many learning experiences I wish I had more time for. By my lights, I love hip-hop--play it for my contemporaries whenever they give me the chance. But it's not the center of my musical universe--which in fact has no center, expanding as it does.

The purpose of this lengthy preamble is to set up my own response to Tha Carter III, which I now own in three almost totally different iterations, two ID'd as "mixtapes." That's counting the burn Blender got to me Saturday and the one I AmExed at Virgin at midnight Monday as one, although the track order is different and my "deluxe edition" includes a disc containing The Leak EP (which starts with "I'm Me," as I already knew from Rhapsody and my Sansa player). I think Jonah is right--"album" means something very different from "mixtape" in the commercial climate Wayne has mastered or at least confronted with such audacity and imagination. I've listened to that album half a dozen times now, and--sorry, but this is how I run my business--still don't really know what I think of it. But I can say this much. I like it, sure. A or A minus record, very likely. Right now, however, there's not a thing on it I enjoy as much as "I'm Me" or "Kush" on my bonus disc. Maybe tomorrow that'll change--likely it will change. But although my favorite hip-hop album of the decade is Kanye's highly produced Late Registration, in this case album-ness is not a plus. "Lollipop," which I first heard here for reasons suggested in my first graf? Pretty weak. Kanye's "Comfortable"? I'm not convinced even though--unlike Nick, if I'm understanding him correctly, though I was surprised to see him say this--I don't normally give a fuck about "authenticity." I don't give a fuck whether Weezy wrote the rhymes or Gillie the Kid did (though a return to Gillie the Kid today left me highly dubious about the latter), and I don't give a fuck if Weezy is any kind of love man (or indeed, heterosexual, though it would admittedly be cool if he was in fact gay). But six times in, with room to change my mind, "Comfortable" is not a slow jam for me and my lady. Its dishonesty lacks conviction.

Although like Josh I find Wayne's mixtapes overwhelming, it's their overwhelmingness that has rendered him the most important rapper and indeed pop artist since Kanye fell off, as he did last September. He is unlikely ever to make a Late Registration or even a The Chronic (which I still can't stand but respect for its influence and iconicity). What's great about him is that he's out of control. He overproduces, runs on at the mouth, can't stop himself. As Josh says, he's in love with language--more even than Eminem or Chuck D, very nearly (although not quite) in early Dylan territory. At the same time, he loves rapping, but the two aren't really distinguishable. The shit just rolls on and on and on, and some of it is brilliant and some of it isn't, but when it isn't brilliant it gets close enough soon enough. I especially love "I Feel Like Dying," the best song about getting high since the Rolling Stones' "Moonlight Mile." But the track I play for my contemporaries is "Intro" from Da Drought 3. It has that Mims beat that I never heard until Weezy brought it to my attention, and thank you Mims even if I can't understand why the fuck your version was so huge. (One reason I like the mixtapes is that Wayne jacks and improves all those hit beats I'm not nearly tired of. Though the long sample from the Beatles' "Help" on one of my Carter IIIs holds up pretty good.) But that moment when he moves from "I can jump on any nigga's song and make a part two" and all its attendant impossible rhymes and then moves on to the dancehall-stylee "Murder dem," as if to say before I was this and now I'm that and four lines from now I'll be something else and that's why I'm better than you. Or rather, one reason I'm better than you. There are many. I heard something in his flow even when he was pushing the thug shit I hate.

This brings me to the misogyny question Josh raised. Gangsta-etc. is a metaphor system. Problem is, very often it's a socially retrograde metaphor system, or even worse, a metaphor system invented to camouflage the socially retrograde. I have no use for it unless it's truly brilliant--classic example: M.O.P.'s "Ante Up," one of the great singles of the past decade (with a pretty good album attached). But Lil Wayne is clearly playing with the shit. There are moments--I'd have to go looking for them, but I do notice them as they pass by--when he shades over into the socially retrograde. But his sense of play swallows those moments up. Very New Orleans, this. Listen to the Wild Tchoupitoulas sometime. Mardi Gras Indians. Very upful. Sing about killing each other, among other things. I love 'em.

My favorite track so far is on the bonus disc. "I'm Me," natch. Let me say bye with a few lines: "The only time I will depend is when I'm 70 years old/That's when I can't hold my shit within, so I shit on myself/Cause I'm so sick and tired of shitting on everybody else." Just one thing, authenticity-wise. In my experience, folks don't need Depends--those are diapers, young people--till they're past 80. Hope I'm right.

RC


5: Jonah Weiner

Dear Wayne Trust:

Like Josh, I was surprised to see Nick describe Wayne as "quintessentially southern, using lyrics in a non-lyrical way." I've taken a different lesson from him since Carter II. When Wayne raps, on "Dough is What I Got," that he's "the only down-south nigga could have been in the Firm or the Commission or a Wu-Tang nigga," I take it as explicit notice that he cares a hell of a lot more about traditional east-coast rapping values (which basically means rhythmic complexity and metaphorical density, right?) than, you know, Lil Jon or Young Jeezy (whose realer-than-real anti-rhyming myth Nick elegantly traced). Wayne's got a marvelous voice, and I think a huge part of his rise to greatness involves the way it grew from an adolescent wheedle to its raspy, ravaged current condition. But--and if I'm putting words in your mouth, Nick, and they taste nasty, spit 'em back at me--that doesn't mean he values sound over sense, much less regards them as equals. Consonant-obliterating T.I. boils his hot lines down into drawl-drones (see "What You Know"), but Wayne is a guy who stops to laugh at his jokes every other bar! As he says on "Dr. Carter," he means "every letter in the words in the sentence of my quotes"--and he wants us to catch every last one, even if it means rewinding a whole bunch.

But it's true: job one for Wayne is not Hov-esque, clear-eyed communication or Nas-esque, urgent dispatches. Bob puts it very nicely: Wayne's brilliance shines when "he overproduces, runs on at the mouth, can't stop himself." One of my favorite rhymes of Wayne's is from "C.O.L.O.U.R.S.," on Tha Carter III Sessions mixtape, where he brags, "My body's unique, like the Sistine Chapel/Fresh! Like six green apples." This couplet is three things: unabashedly goofy; strikingly formalist as it yanks our attention toward the constructed-ness of the rhyme, the work of rhyming going on; and a fantastic punch line by even the most hardened '90s-purist's standards: A thoroughly unexpected, thoroughly original characterization of "freshness." Fresh like Certs? Heard that or something like it before. Fresh like your first year at college? Zzz. But fresh like the half-dozen Granny Smiths I got at Fairway last October? Yum!

These sorts of rhyme schemes--"parallel rhymes," as I've seen critics call them--are the gems of Wayne's recent catalogue: Sistine Chapel/Six green apples. Arrogance is funny/Asparagus is yummy. Lot of weed/Pot of peas. Hockey team/Rocky theme. One of my favorites is from "Dr. Carter": Yeast infection/Geese erection. It's something Eminem does (used to do?) astonishingly well, but with him the rhymes come in the service, more or less, of a narrative (mom's spaghetti/palms are sweaty/calm and ready, from "Lose Yourself"). Wayne, by contrast, is great at putting narrative at the service of his rhymes. He starts with a yeast infection. What rhymes with that? Geese erection. How the hell does he get from yeast infection to geese erection in a bar? Well, what properties do geese erections have? They are hard, and they fly. Voila: "Fly, go hard like geese erection." A chaotic, twelve-way-train-wreck-of-thought meets rigorous rhyme discipline. (I am happy to mention I got to watch Wayne conceive of and record this rhyme for this feature).

So I half-agree with Josh--the mixtapes are exhausting, but the upshot of that is, they're almost impossible to exhaust: dense, excessive, unpredictable, as surprising and rich with play on a fifteenth listen as the first. I love Tha Carter III, but am I asking too much if I wish there were a bit more excess to it? Not excess in the sense of skits and irritating "ladies' jams" featuring Bobby Valentino (it's got the latter--that's the one I always skip, "Mrs. Officer"), but excess in the sense of buckets of WTF-ness, rules not just being ignored but rewritten in Martian hieroglyphs--Cf. "I Feel Like Dying," a daydream/waking nightmare Bob aptly identifies as one of Wayne's most fascinating songs.

Wayne raps, as I put it in a forthcoming hard-copy Blender magazine review, in hypertext links: I love how he pings from tangent to tangent on Tha Carter III. But I wish he'd get lost in those tangents some more, feel out and expand their contours a bit, the way he does in the "Phone Home" Target rhyme Nick mentioned.

Oh, and my favorite song here, if it wasn't implicit in post No. 1, is "A Milli." If we're going by Bob's rules, though, "I Feel Like Dying" and Wayne's hard-knock-youth-reminiscence "La La La"--not to be confused with "La La" here--give it stiff competition.

Like, geese-erection stiff.

Jonah


6: Nick Sylvester

Dear J-Love and Waynans Brothers,

Thanks for your major pain and not-so-hidden darts. Let's get this party started quickly. This post is brought to you by Kraftwerk:

  1. Don't sweat "quintessentially Southern." When I say the New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne uses words in a non-lyrical way, I do not mean that's the only way he works them. I certainly don't mean to say I think the man is just scatting up there. To be clear, I love this album. 93 RIFFS or 90 RIFFS, very likely. The guy can rhyme. But I'm bummed by what I fear is some New York Critical Approach valuing only Wayne's East Coast Rapperness: the dense metaphors, the rhyme schemes, the science dropped, while Wayne's non-ECR qualities and non-ECR delivery are glossed over. In this roundtable setting, I am trying to correct that. I apologize if I'm overdoing it. But the NYC approach forsakes one of rap's key traits, which is its orality. The stuff you won't see on elyricsworld.com or Sing365. The NYC approach keeps all the venom in the jar--or worse, considers venomous that which is not East Coast Rapperly. NYC isn't necessarily an academic approach, and doesn't produce lazy scholarship per se, but it's very clinical, a little too Wynton Marsalis for my tastes, and shrives Wayne short.

  2. Perhaps because it's easier to write about words, I do think critics tend to wax long on lyrics more than the so-called non-verbal qualities of a rapper's delivery. And all I'm trying to get at, swear to Christ, is why Wayne's rhymes are more fun, more physically pleasing than (but just as science-droppy as) your usual East Coast Rapper's. Wayne pays as much attention to the circumstances of his delivery--laughing at every other joke, garbling his best lines, running out of breath, mispronouncing words for the sake of a rhyme then apologizing for doing so, etc.--as he does to that which he delivers. He physically draws attention to the fact that he is a rapper, rapping. These are not secondary to the content. They are the content themselves. And I find his particular sort of attention to delivery, in service to his persona, to his attitude, to the ease with which he wants his words to hit our ears, very Southern--or at the very least, not exactly on the top of the priority list for the science-dropping East Coast Rapper type. I find many lyric-driven rap artists are difficult to listen to. Either I don't like the way his voice sounds, and I don't like how he articulates, or I don't like the words he uses--too many nouns, maybe, or too many abstractions. Dense metaphor is strictly for-the-mind shit. It's there with Wayne too--there in all the ways people have been pointing out so far--but there's a Macbeth side to him too: Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under't. Anyone can understand Wayne, and yet no one can understand Wayne.

  3. I really enjoyed Jonah pointing out the rhyme structures Wayne leans on, and picking apart the methods to his madness. (I swear I'm done with the Shakespeare references.) The recreation of Wayne's thought process though, i.e. how Wayne got from "yeast infection" to "geese erection," and how his bridge from one rhyme to the other ("fly, go hard") comprises something particularly unique or praiseworthy in the game . . . Let's not get carried away. Lil Wayne is a rapper. Rappers rhyme. Rhymes exist only as sound. Occam would have it they start at the next couplet's rhyme, and then they figure out how to get there, all while maintaining some semblance of grammar and syntax so we can understand what they're saying. I don't think this is just Lil Wayne's M.O. It's just what rappers do. Let's not get carried away, because otherwise, we're just rewarding rappers for talking in sentences--we're singing their praises basically for not being Aesop Rock. It's a slippery slope. By that logic, Rick Ross might truly be the biggest boss that you seen thus far.

  4. The word "narrative" has come up a few times. Narrative comes from narrare, which is O.G. for to tell a story. "Fly, go hard like geese erection" is not a story. It's barely a sentence. It's brilliant. But it's not a story, and it's barely a sentence, and the next verse (to my ears) is "fashion patrol, police detection/ Eyes stay tight like Chinese connection." But maybe that's not the best part of "Dr. Carter" to bring up if you want to talk about the few and fabulous times Lil Wayne stays on point. As I said last time, this is my favorite rap song on the album, key word being "rap song." There's an overarching theme (Wayne is a doctor who operates on rappers), the theme is roughly but not dogmatically adhered to, and Wayne allows himself plenty flights of fancy and dead-end tangent-chasing. That'd be enough for me. But this is why the song is brilliant. As Josh pointed out, Wayne is a terrible doctor. Each verse, he starts out focused, but as he continues the operation, he becomes distracted by his own tangents, as if catching his own reflection in the stainless steel of his scalpels. His first two patients die. Wayne sends up his own vanity, critiques his own style. As in "Phone Home," he preempts all criticism. He's a doctor. You can't read his writing. What's implicit is that: Sometimes neither can he. Notice that the only patient he saves is Hip-Hop herself. The same thing happens as the first two verses--Wayne loses himself in the tangents--but this time he catches himself and focuses back on the task at hand: "Wait! As I put the light down his throat/ I can only see flow/ His blood starting to flow/ His lungs starting to grow/ This one starting to show/ Strong signs of life/ Where the stitches, here's the knife/ Smack his face, his eyes open/ I reply with a nice welcome back/ Hip-Hop, I saved your life."

  5. But most tracks on Tha Carter III aren't "rap songs." They are free-for-alls and freestyles and unstructured and (in a word) mixtape-like. As as I was getting at last time: For me this is an entirely new way of listening to rap music. Wayne's approach is of the times, very honest, oddly humble. Let's go bowling: I hear Music For Airports here more than I do The Blueprint or anything rap canonical. This is wallpaper music in the honorable way Eno meant it: Physically pleasing, non-demanding sounds, yet if you take the time to listen, at any given point you will find depth and meaning and brilliance in spades. It is a pastiche of koans, haikus, and RIFFS, nonlinear and with no main entry point. Just drop in. Bob seemed to be getting at this same point, by negation, when he said Wayne will never make a Late Registration. That album was an event, and so struck me anomalous and anachronistic to begin with. Maybe that was its power. But music doesn't have the Event Power it used to. Dematerializing to the point that it's about to bankrupt the very industry that took it this far, music has become part of the daily fabric, taken for granted like heat in the summer and advertisements on the subway. And yet! There is no reason to mourn. Wayne promises.

I don't wanna be a number either,

Nick


7: Josh Eels

To my homeys working on the Wayne Gang,

It's fitting that both Bob and Jonah have brought up Eminem. More than anyone else--the elder Mr. Carter included--Em is the rapper Weezy reminds me of most right now. Not so much his cadences or rhyme patterns, though those are there too (as Jonah pointed out). It's more the fact that he seems to just be--playing with it. On The Eminem Show Eminem sounded like he'd lost his damn mind, doing Pee Wee Herman impressions and rhyming about utterly wacky nonsense because he just didn't give a fuck anymore. Wayne projects the same sense of just-foolin'-around, but instead of boredom, he's driven by curiosity. He loves getting lost inside his own brain, slipping inside every unlocked door just to see where it goes. My favorite example of this is four bars near the end of "Mr. Carter," where he just takes an idea and runs with it--"Off the Richter /Hector/ Camacho Man Randy Savage/ Far from average/ Above status/ Quo . . . flow . . . so . . . pro . . ." It's an earthquake metaphor followed by a name that kind of rhymes with the thing people use to measure earthquakes followed by the last name of a boxer who has that first name followed by a Jeopardy "Before and After" joke about a professional wrestler followed by an offtime couplet that eventually devolves into a string of just-happen-to-rhyme signifiers. And down the rabbit hole we go.

I learned long ago not to argue with someone who knows more Latin than me, so I won't take issue with Nick's claim about narratives vs. sentences vs. shit that just sounds really cool. But I would like to point out that "non-linear" is not the same as "non-narrative." By which I mean, just because Wayne doesn't have expositions and resolutions and character arcs, doesn't mean he's not telling a story. Even if the story is just, I am effing crazy.

I do have to disagree though, Nick, with your comparison of Carter III to one of Brian Eno's physically pleasing, non-demanding ambient odysseys. (Fun fact: "Ambient Odyssey" is also the name of a delicious blueberry-apple smoothie I had yesterday.) To me, Carter III is the opposite of non-demanding. I was trying to write this post with the album playing in the background, in fact, and I couldn't do it. Had to turn it off. I kept getting drawn in--by the beats, by Wayne's one-liners, and yes, by his "orality." (No you-know-what.) Eno's wallpaper music is cool and monochrome, the aural equivalent of a rainy Saturday afternoon spent playing chess on your iMac. Wayne's wallpaper, on the other hand, is sizzurp-vision colorful, and peeling at the corners, and reeking of weed and sweat and not a little sex, and hey, is that blood over there?

David Lee Roth had a great line about rock critics loving Elvis Costello because rock critics all looked like Elvis Costello. I think music critics love Wayne because we think like Wayne--or at least would like to believe we do, or would if we could. Wayne sees juxtapositions, patterns, dots waiting to be connected. He thinks, in other words, like a critic. Here's somebody or other, writing about Da Drought 3:

[Wayne is] a rapper who secretly albeit clearly to me gives a shit about what he's doing, so much so that he doesn't even want to get paid for it. He just wants validation. He wants somebody to rise to his level and read the fuck out of these lyrics, really think about how they fit together track after track.

In other words, Lil Wayne needs us! And he appreciates us! On Dedication 2's "Sportscenter" he even gave a special shout-out to magazine editors. Not our magazine, granted, but hey, we take what we can get. Word nerds, unite!

But lucky for Wayne (and us), critics aren't the only ones who love him. I hate to keep harping on sales (although then again why not, because sales are the whole point here--otherwise he'd be giving this one away free, too), but a projected 900K+ in the first week? More than Mariah and Usher did in their first weeks combined? To me, that qualifies as an event. Maybe Nick is right, and in this fractured, ADHD, hyper-whatever culture, Everything Is a Mixtape. But I have friends who buy maybe three albums a year and they couldn't wait to get their hands on this one. Does it count as irony that one of the people most responsible for exposing the flaws of the record-industry's distribution model might also be doing more than almost anyone to save it?

Anyway, rap album of the year. Download it now if you haven't already. Heck, BItTorrent a copy to give to your daddy this Sunday. And be sure to give it to him with a big wet kiss.

Josh


8: Robert Christgau

Fellow Rock Critics?

So I'm supposed to provide the summation, eh? Fat chance, especially with this open-ended character, who as Jonah informed us just rematerialized or whatever you call it today with the online-only six-minute Carter III "bonus cut" "Whip It," which I just streamed and then downloaded (free! hey! It worked!) because Jonah loves it. More than me, so far, but you know, I'm not a quick study?no instant judgments, very pre-blog. Yesterday I refused even to finalize on the album. But having first softened myself up with saturation listening and then decompressed by spending the evening with a lot of New Orleans and related Latin tinge piano (first at a private chamber concert, then on CD at home), I woke up this morning raring to go. I was going to take notes on every track, get my m-b-c around every one. Only by the time I got to "A Milli," track three, I was weary. Where was that rush I get when I bear down on music by artists this good? "3 Peat," "Mr. Carter," "A Milli"--all creditable. But no rush. Then came "Got Money," which soon revealed itself as my least favorite track here even though I have nothing against T-Pain (come on, guys, it's no "Low") and "Comfortable" ("I would never 1-2-3-4get you?" Come on.) Then my wife woke up and made tea and I took a long break, depressed. Etran Finatwa at breakfast, not a great Sahara album, was a relief.

A few hours later I came back and fell in love. Not with the whole album--my read at the moment is that it starts slow, peaks for five terrific songs in the middle, and then recedes enjoyably enough. The game-changer--Weezy's North Carolina--is the hilarious "Dr. Carter," which I think Nick nails as far as he goes, peaking with the glorious "He's a doctor. You can't read his writing" (only I'm not sure whether that's a Weezy line I missed or Nick's own--perfect either way). There's more, though. Skit part's essential, especially Weezy's wearily idiomatic "ach"s when the nurse details the patients' ailments. More important, not only is Weezy an ineffective doctor, he's KILLING bad rappers--murdering dem, with malpractice. And most important of all, the beat, which I found so rich I checked out David Axelrod's "The Smile," which it samples. The effective string part I figured. What killed me was that the hyperactive drums and off-center bass were also there, near as I can tell chopped and looped to be much crazier by Swizz Beats. Nick, we do all know and basically agree about this East Coast words-versus-music stuff; that's what my apostrophe on "Intro" said yesterday. "Dr. Carter" wouldn't be such an up if the lyric wasn't so maniacal. But the lyric itself can?t carry the song, and for me isn't even at the center of its excitement. Rather, it's the l-m-c (that one means lyrics-music continuum, you figure out the other). "Dr. Carter" is a song. That's how most songs work.

I love the next three tracks too, in "Mrs. Officer," "Phone Home," "My Hands Are Tied" order (Robin Thicke gets best cameo award here, ahead of both Jay-Z and Betty Wright). But my favorite track on the record is the other Kanye West production, apparently a two-bar loop Wayne added drums to: "Let the Beat Build." Once again, the music carries the track--as I said last time, one reason Wayne's mixtapes rule is that they jack proven beats that only the novelty snobs who so distort both alt-rock and beatmaking are tired of. It just builds and builds. But it wouldn't build as effectively if the rhyming wasn't Wayne at his best. Let me quote one, er, let's call it a quatrain, though I could also just say credo: "I can see the end of the beginning/So I'm not racin' I'm just sprintin'/'Cause I don't wanna finish/They diminish, I replenish."

Nick says Carter III is really a mixtape. I say no mixtape has a "Got Money," a "Comfortable," a "Lollipop" (which I'm warming to, I think). Those songs turn it into a Statement--about pop, really. Josh thinks that statement is also a kind of salvation. I doubt it--like Jonah, I want more excess because excess is Wayne's gift. But there's enough excess, contradiction in terms thought that may be. With Wayne, contradictions in terms are specialite de maison. Mighty cootie fiyo.

RC

Blender, June 11, 2008