“Welcome back hip-hop I saved your life,” raps Lil Wayne on his polarizing album Tha Carter III. Hip-hop is a genre that has been deemed in need of saving ever since its integration into the mainstream. Plenty of artists have declared the genre dead, plenty have uttered words of resuscitation and plenty are its self-proclaimed saviors. The quote cited at the top is from one of these such artists, Lil Wayne. Here is an artist who has been in the game since he was roughly nine or ten years old and since become one of the most recognizable – for better or worse, names in the music industry.
The source of recognition is, of course, his music. But the interpretation of his recognition is far from universally agreed upon. No matter where you are in the world, whether online or in public, there are equally as many people holding Wayne’s pedestal to the heavens and proclaiming him king, as there are refuting his legitimacy even as a musical artist and classifying him as trash. Though not everything he has created is worth writing home about, it very likely isn’t trash. The defining moment in Wayne’s career came in 2008 with the release of his sixth studio album, Tha Carter 3.
This album was an amalgamation of Wayne’s raspy, choppy voice, blunt rhythmic style and intriguing use of metaphors to create an entirely unique and personal sound. It was the unleashing of himself to the world and it was cradled in masterfully diverse and sound production. It starts with Wayne’s proclamation of his worthiness on ‘3 Peat’. He brings up his near-death experience getting shot at in a car but doesn’t make it the song’s thesis. That is part of the beauty of this album. Whereas typically, a lack of cohesion in projects is bashed, the wandering thoughts of Weezy’s raps give the album a feeling of entertaining chaos. By not being bound by a strict narrative, he can play to his strengths which reveal themselves in the form of clever metaphors and dancy wordplay.
Sonically, the beats cover a lot of ground. Everything from bass-loaded trunk rattlers, to soft acoustic string guitar riffs and even some jazzy-soul joints. The eccentricity of Lil Wayne’s style is only amplified by the diverse collection of producers who gave him times where he could vibe out and mess around with his lyrics on upbeat songs like ‘Let The Beat Build’ and then we are hit instantly with a warning shot to other rappers by a much more seriously toned Weezy on ‘Shoot Me Down’. This up and down nature of the sound matches beautifully with the scatterbrained topics that make up a majority of Lil Wayne raps.
Everytime he could’ve trailed off in one direction and elaborated on a particular point in his life or general topic, he switches. Instead, his general goal seems to be to bewilder listeners with rhymes that often reach that barrier between clever and ridiculous.
“Got a pistol on the playground; watch the gun-play
Like no kidding: no kids in the way”
But the ridiculousness is welcomed, coming from a man who I’m pretty sure isn’t entirely convinced that he is human. His martian mentality definitely lends itself to the music, which on a song like, ‘Phone Home’ can occasionally sound like it is not of this world, whether it’s from the abstract minimalistic beat, the distorted vocals or a combination. To summarize the feeling that the album emits, you could look at the way that the odd, intense song ‘Phone Home’ is followed by a much more conscious and grounded song ‘Tie My Hands’.
Lil Wayne both raps simply to rap and also has strokes where he has something conscious to discuss that adds to one social sphere or another. Tha Carter 3 is an album that never gets too comfortable in any one position. Its restless, dizzying and a whole lot of fun. While it isn’t a perfect album, it is likely the closest thing to it that Wayne has ever released, and considering the way it has reached both mainstream status, yet also is littered in underground conversations as an album that is at the very least admirable.