Tha Carter III
(Cash Money; 2008)
By Dom Sinacola & Clayton Purdom | 18 June 2008
There are plenty of reasons to hate Lil Wayne, and plenty of reasons to scoff at the score above this review and so many others like it, and on the first verse of the first track of this strange, contentious little record Wayne perfectly elucidates this conflict, almost preempting Cokemachineglow’s dialectical critical approach with a metaphor so apropos it strikes a chord of crystalline bilateralism: “Don’t you ever fit your lips unless you ‘bout to suck my dick, bitch / Swallow my words, taste my thoughts / And if it’s too nasty, spit it back at me.”
Lil Wayne, in other words, gets that you may not enjoy listening to him, and he’s okay with that. Not in the victimized-but-don’t-give-a-fuck-because-only-God-can-judge way (we see Puffy and Nas on their crosses), but more like, “Yeah, I talk real weird, and am not good at singing or playing the guitar, and look like a melted troll doll. This may not be your thing.” If Lil Wayne were on CMG’s staff (which: invitation offered), he would probably counterpoint a positive review of this record, so thoroughly does he understand his own appeal. But this is—bafflingly, wonderfully—an appeal that transcends those of us atop the internet’s pasty tower. “Hotly anticipated” is as much a cheat of a phrase as it is an unreasonable burden, adding only more supercilious clashing ephemera to the record’s release. Because of all the claims and rebukes surrounding this man’s emceeing ability, the record becomes the sort of defining manifestation of all things “best rapper alive” that would essentially prove wrong and stupid before the thing could ever make a Billboard mark. Though wrong and stupid kinda work (in a good way!), Tha Carter III is more a balanced, self-conscious synthesis of everything viably great about Lil Wayne, hyperbolic or not, than the penultimate statement of the MC’s “legendary” status. Up until now, and especially within Wayne’s golden age, Mixtape Weezy seemed fissured irretrievably from Album Weezy; after all, Tha Carter II (2005) wasn’t exactly a classic and the mixtapes that followed (Da Drought 3  and Tha Carter III Mixtape  as the best of the best) basically ruled, and what stood possibly molehill’d between was a sense of fuck-all freedom.
But if here you are, uninitiated into the universe Wayne’s so indelibly wrapped around himself, then: Welcome! You’re probably wondering what the fuck we’re thinking! Fair enough; we fight against common sense and the most we can hope for is a Pyrrhic victory, one that lays our credibility on the table sutured to tinny snares and egregious vocoder abuse and tasteless MLK references and a semi-erect cock tattooed on an adorable baby’s forehead. So what’s in it for us, even when we admit that Tha Carter III absolutely does not confirm Lil Wayne as the best rapper alive? In its buttmunch hybridity it doesn’t leave much room for anyone else to take the throne—and there in the glee of Schadenfreude we can find something sorely missing from contemporary commercial rap: a punchline whose joke is the misfortune of every other lauded mainstream artist. Tha Carter 3 is unleashed into a climate ravenous for Wayne to fail or fly, but regardless of the outcome he’s being eyed like Jigga around American Gangster or Yeezy around Graduation. This is High Profile shit, in other words, and it’s Lil fucking Wayne! Slurring, lecherous, absurdist Lil’ Wayne! We are, mind, laughing with Lil’ Wayne (actually, he’s cackling), and there’s an excitement in that inclusiveness, as if somehow we intuit how insularly the guy’s been building his career and can now respect the thing as a whole, as a big, swarthy, swaggering, mellifluous zit on the industry. If this is it for Weezy—and, if anything, the album sure acts like it—then we’ve received the perfect black-out, as infuriating and exhilarating as all the best irrational love affairs could ever be.
Which may go too far in accepting what would otherwise be intolerable—the utter nothingness of “Lollipop”; Robin Thicke squealing; the crunk douche of “Phone Home,” spoiling the sci-fi B-movie intro by tempering its bells and saucer-spun strings under an asinine call to “Do the Weezy wee,” whatever that is (unwelcome mental images emerge); T-Pain; “Mrs. Officer” ripping the plot off “Sir Psycho Sexy” but replacing club-in-anus whimsy with the ceaseless snooze of Bobby Valentino’s voice; the repetition of “pussy,” so often in “Playin’ With Fire” that it just makes skin crawl. There are more examples—but the score already shows where we’re at on this divide. That which is bad of Wayne is also good, all part of the same alien snot rocketed from the gods toward earth. Check “A Milli,” especially as a single, an incomprehensible annoyance of interstitial friction, maybe hoping to fake a chorus, a hook even, on the basis of the commercial fodder that surrounds it. The beat itself is boggling, simply, a ballhair swang kissing minimalism not with any sort of respect but instead with a threat: this doesn’t taste good but it must be sampled, rolled over the tongue, before ever spat back. Because Weezy accepts no passive listeners; disgust, at least, is active, and the more explicit the metaphors, the more serpentine the assonance, the more pus’ll be cleaned out.
No wonder that amidst the giggly conceit and jazz snare of “Dr. Carter” (three fucking cheers to Swizz Beats on that rising three-act whiz-bang) Weezy kills two patients before declaring, enunciating each syllable, “Hip hop I saved your life.” Before that he concedes, “Too paid to freestyle / Too paid to freestyle / Had to say it twice / Swagger so nice,” seemingly at odds with the upward trajectory of his mixtape abandon. It’s not hypocrisy, really, more like hypochondria—wading in the gross stew of our world’s ills, Weezy’s feverish, compelled to imagine something of a Utopia displaced from, erm, the half of the planet that thinks he’s a fuckwit. And really, the record’s a bit of a thematic mess, but the conflicting instincts and licentiousness might plunder through each track with so much bravado that the logic itself—the attempt to live, rebel against, celebrate, twist, and salve all the shit cornering the record at its fringes: “I know my role / And I play it well / And I weigh it well / On my Libra scale”—is hallucinogen enough to feel completely exciting and new. And, just because it’s the critics’ right to relish and reprint such things, we find elsewhere on the record wordplay of obscene opulence, simple, giddy puns (“I got game like EA / And I wanna let you play”), confrontations with beauty of eye-squinting largesse (“My picture should be in the dictionary next to the definition of ‘definition’ / Because repetition is the father of learning / And son I know your barrel burning, but…”), and rap’s most lascivious delivery soaring still across ever-stranger vistas (“And I’d rather be pushing flowers / Then to be in the pen sharing showers / Tony told ya this world was ours / And the Bible told us every girl was sour / Don’t be in the garden and don’t smell her flower / Call me Mr. Carter or Mr. Lawnmower”). Then there’s also that part about geese erections. Ha!
It’s incorrect and a little ignoble to look at the preceding paragraph and, having heard the record, concede to the tired reactionary pull against Wayne’s canonization, although those who have made up their mind on such things will find nothing here or on the record proper to convince them otherwise. So, yes: even lovely Kanye-at-his-swooningest “Comfortable” is just a string of punchlines, the album-closing jeremiad remains an appendix, no matter your opinion of it, and even when a track-length structure or theme is imposed on the wordplay it remains just that: wordplay, addressing and concerned with itself alone. Wayne will never rap with the cultural insight of Lupe, the writerly social concern of Andre, the abundant populism of Jay or Kanye, or that furious concern with the human soul that continues to define Nas’ oeuvre. But even without such high-minded attributes he remains a peer of these emcees, and of those half-dozen or so others this past decade that treated the microphone as a pen and words as though they meant something. Of those just listed, Nas and Lupe have authored wrought verses of interminable artistry, while the other three addressed popular audiences via album-length bursts of artistic intuition. The final result of Lil’ Wayne’s artistic efforts will be no such traditional output. It is, rather, Wayne himself, the story he continues to live via YouTube and the philanthropic flood of mixtapes and guest spots, and this endless volume of punchlines—yes, just punchlines, each an infinitesimal proof of the thing—that continue to come from his mouth, in warbles, in dribbles, as vomit, as a flood. And if the time comes that he really is the best rapper alive, indomitable and unanimous, he’ll proclaim his status loudly from the gravetops of every other contender, still a quarter century old and mewling about pee-pee.