Check that out there, up in the corner, right above, on the left. Yep, that’s right -- Tha Carter III. It’s here. Really. And whatever your opinion on Lil Wayne’s increasingly polarizing as-often-ridiculous-as-it-is-flat-out-brilliant two-and-half-year-long mixtape run is, you must be curious.
It was never clear why Tha Carter III got the ruaround, especially with Wayne’s Internet onslaught -- predicated upon Hi-C- and promethiazine-fueled twelve-hour recording sessions -- alone maintaining his position as arguably the hottest rapper alive. Most of us chalked it up to a mercurial artist being, well, mercurial. But maybe Wayne’s post-Carter II period needs be summarized, documented, and footnoted in marketing textbooks: Tha Carter III is forecasted to crack a million in sales its first week out.
And guess what? He deserves it. There’s a palpable blood-lust for an “emperor has no clothes” moment, for Wayne to whiff on the biggest stage possible, for the summarily coronated kid to chip his teeth on a fat chunk of reality. But it ain’t happening. Tha Carter III is a singular, refreshing work; to its great credit, it could have only come from the addled mind of Mr. Dwayne Carter.
It’s no surprise that the album really takes off on its third track, “A Millii.” During his mid-Carter sojourn, Wayne feasted on beats like this one -- just a snare and a jackhammer sample of a voice repeating the title -- beats that are odd, minimalist, so unlikely, and yet, ultimately, completely vindicated by the spaces they leave for Wayne to fill. (Think “Sportscenter,” off Dedication II, Weezy murdering a beat made up of spare woohs and the echoes of tennis ball bounces).
And fill he does. The album’s first knockout comes quick and hard, Wayne, as always, riding the slight drum patter masterfully: "He’s a beast, he’s a dog, he’s the muthafuckin’ problem/ Okay, you’re a goon, but what’s a goon to a goblin?” Uh, yessir.
He pulls the isolation trick a few more times: on “La La,” Wayne slouching along on David Banner’s preposterous beat, a little kid dropping la la’s over, of all things, a xylophone riff; on “Dr. Carter,” Wayne as a hip-hop doctor, saving wack MCs' lives over Swizz Beat’s slightly ascending horns; on “Let the Beat Build,” Wayne letting Kanye’s jaunty piano sample pull him along. Dude is as in love with the sound -- and as engaged by the possibility -- of his unmitigated flow as we are.
But Tha Carter III soars because of Wayne’s to-date under-appreciated ability to turn himself down. The tentative, stumbling electric guitar lick on “Shoot Me Down” transforms into a lonely spotlight on a dark stage, Wayne’s eyes cast down, the air sucked out the room: “This is history in the making,” he sneers, “so shut the fuck up and let me make it.”
His trademark flabbergasted bravado in a different guise, perhaps. But then there’s “Tie Me Down,” a tribute to his embattled hometown of New Orleans. We’ve heard him go down this road before, probably most significantly on “Georgia Bush” off Dedication II. But that song was marred by his juvenile twisting of the president’s name. This time we have Weezy unfiltered, raw nerves exposed: “They try to tell me keep my eyes open/ my whole city underwater, some people still floating.” The spoken-word outro is stoic and powerful: “Born right here in the USA, but…due to tragedy…looked on by the whole world as a refugee.” I’d pay a pretty penny to see this track performed for his already enraptured hometown crowd.
But the album’s most significant moment might just be “Comfortable,” a rebuke, of sorts, of Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable.” It’s the most accomplished pop song in Wayne’s lengthy arsenal, a tack he had never even hinted at being able to pull off before. Gliding strings and Babyface, in distinguished elder-gentleman role, crooning on the hook; Weezy, endearingly bruised, defends himself preemptively from a romantic abandonment. As a standalone, perhaps it isn’t all that, but relative to the rest of Wayne’s oeuvre, it’s a singular treat. Who knew hearing Wayne nearly gushing would be this satisfying?
Two last notes: first, along with the previously mentioned standout “Let the Beat Build," Kanye produced "Shoot Me Down" and "Comfortable." Would drool over the possibility of a full album collabo from these two. And second: Wayne is just 25 years old. A remarkably meteoric rise; a remarkable album.
The Wu gambino and Nas stan in me recalls that Raekwon skit when I look at the cover of Weezy's latest opus. But the image appears to hearken Arrested Development or Pagliacci more than Mr. Jones or Mr. Wallace. And I suppose that is why Wayne has that crossover appeal – because he's just so darn amusing!