It might be time for Lil Wayne to drop those first three letters from his name.
The skinny, dreadlocked prodigal son of New Orleans—who has spent years dropping free tracks on the street in the form of mixtapes, cameos and leaked bootlegs—has created an album and an act that is an order of magnitude above his previous work.
On Tha Carter III, Lil Wayne reaches the apotheosis of pop perfection without making a complete departure from the drawl-spit hip-hop style that made him a famous teenager. Recording with New Orleans legend Juvenile back in the late '90s, Wayne helped make the term "bling" a national statement of fact by bragging about $50,000 pinkie rings in the chorus of the Hot Boys' "Bling Bling." Back then, he was the little brother (age 16 when "Bling Bling" came out) with the reedy little voice and a penchant for guns, gold (or platinum) and girls.
But now he has evolved, creating music over the last two years that shows both musical maturity and a willingness to explore the uncharted—even if that doesn't always work out.
Like OutKast and R. Kelly in recent years—and Blowfly and Bootsy Collins before them—Weezy moves the boundary of his genre to a galaxy far, far away, while keeping the heart of his music firmly in the ghetto zip codes where it was born.
Tha Carter III is an interconnected patchwork of hip-hop styles that don't usually fit so comfortably together. Tracks like "Phone Home" are a space-race mindfuck, with enough droning lyrics and warped vocals to give Ziggy Stardust a hard-on. Like OutKast, Wayne manages to bring this far-out aesthetic to his stage show, using live vocal modulation to great effect—and affect—to make his alien persona come to life.
But Weezy still keeps it street.
The song "Mr. Carter," with a cameo by Jay-Z, is Hip-Hop 101, with Wayne's creaky, creepy vocals linking simile and metaphor over a 4/4 loop while a catchy sung chorus plants the hook of the song firmly into the brain. Same with "Tie My Hands," a song recorded shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated Wayne's hometown. His voice moves over the beat like water: "No governor, no help from the mayor," he raps of the days after the storm came, "just a steady beating heart and a wish and a prayer." The song, with a simple guitar loop and a light ride cymbal as backbeat, could easily be off an early De La Soul or A Tribe Called Quest album, and comes as a surprise considering Wayne's tic-tic-bump Southern roots.
But Wayne still knows where his dance floor bread is buttered. Club bangers like "Got Money" and "Lollipop" (a song with about as many empty musical calories as the name suggests) are, at their heart, dance tracks—and extremely infectious ones at that.
Still, Wayne's reach sometimes exceeds his grasp. The best example of this is when he tries to play guitar, which he will almost certainly do when he comes to Nashville this week. At last year's Summer Jam, he diddled around with a green Gretsch for almost two minutes while New York hip-hop fans stood in stunned confusion trying to figure out what the MC was doing.
Still, to err on the side of innovative risk is a welcome departure from the pursuit of formulaic, radio-friendly pap, and such risk-taking, when combined with the immense talent that Wayne possesses, is sure to yield mind-bending music for years to come—the kind of music meant for grown folks, not the lil ones of the world.
Less crying, more packing Ben. Good riddance.
"That’s all I got to say." - thats right piano boy time to move along
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