Kanye West and Lil Wayne: Together At Last

kanye.jpgThis is some real dog-ugly Sailor Moon shit right here

A couple of months ago, Lil Wayne announced that he was signing with the same management company as Kanye West, a deal that promised to yield some interesting results. Since then, the two of them have formed a sort of mutual appreciation society. In short order, Wayne said that Kanye would be doing a bunch of his tracks on Tha Carter 3, which is shaping up to be Wayne's Apocalypse Now. The first Kanye-produced Wayne track, "La La La," hit the internet and racked up some positive notices. When Wayne did his big pre-arrest New York show, Kanye showed up to do "Can't Tell Me Nothing." And when MTV put Wayne at the top of its scientifically-determined Hottest MCs list, Kanye made sure to point out that they were right to do so, enthusing about Wayne at every opportunity. It's hard to say whether this public love affair is entirely genuine or whether these guys have realized that it's just good business for them to form a tactical alliance, but then again it doesn't really matter either way. What matters is that Wayne and Kanye are probably going to be doing a whole lot of work together. As much as I love the both of them, I'm not totally sure how I feel about that. "La La La" wasn't my favorite of the supposed Carter 3 leaks; the sample of kids singing on the hook gets annoying fast, and Wayne's delivery on the track is a lot lazier and less inventive than usual. One great thing about Wayne is that he doesn't particularly need big-name producers; he does a lot of his best work on random mixtape tracks, and most of my favorite songs on Tha Carter 2 came from underrated Southern guys like Tmix. Kanye turns everything he does into a grand event, and Wayne is relatively content to fly under the radar. If he releases five songs a day, none of those songs is necessarily going to be better than any of the others. Wayne also sounds his best when his tracks come with a whole lot of bass, and one of Kanye's biggest weaknesses as a producer is that he hasn't mastered that rumble yet. But, all skepticism aside, these two seem determined to work together, and a few days ago "Barry Bonds," the first song to feature verses from both of them, hit the internet. It's a really good song and also a really interesting one, mostly because Kanye totally outraps Wayne.

During the initial wave of press-hype around Graduation, Kanye claimed that the album wouldn't feature any rapping guests because he wanted to make a grand statement about his ability as an MC. That seems to me like sort of a misguided tactic; the best way to prove yourself as a rapper, to my mind, is to appear on a track with proven rappers and to show that you can hang with them. Kanye's already done that plenty of times, though, and people still call him a halfassed rapper, so I guess he felt like he needed to do this thing. A couple of early tracklists to Graduation included a Mos Def appearance or two, but I guess that meant we'd be getting singing Mos Def rather than rapping Mos Def. Apparently, though Kanye has decided to violate his own imposed restriction. Kanye has long been obsessed with capturing a particular moment, and so he's probably right to reach out and grab Wayne for the album, since virtually every conversation about rap circa 2007 has to touch on Wayne somehow. Oddly, though, "Barry Bonds" doesn't feel like any sort of massive event-song. There's definitely a lot going on in the song: organs whine, synths twinkle, the drums have a weird reggae lope to them, a vocal sample sounds like a mutated version of Akon's ee-yoo noises on "Sweet Escape." Despite all that, though, the track scans as a low-key simmer rather than an epic blast, an impression that the verses reinforce. Neither Kanye nor Wayne is screaming his name from a mountaintop here; instead, they're casually and indolently tossing rhymes back and forth. There's been a whole lot of talk lately about whether Kanye will sell more records than 50 Cent in September, and Kanye's been really smart to avoid grandstanding arguments there; he's letting 50 look like a self-aggrandizing ass all by himself. One of Kanye's lines here might even address the situation: "I done played the underdog my whole career / I've been a very good sport, haven't I, this year?" Mostly, though, he's just tossing out boasts: head so big, jumping off the plane, top 5 MCs. This is well-trod territory for Kanye, but he sounds like he's having fun trying to compete with Wayne by coming up with as many quotables as possible. Wayne, for his part, sounds like he recorded his verse high at 3 a.m. after he'd just finished up doing verses for five different Kelly Rowland remixes, which for all we know is exactly what happened. His voice is hoarse, his delivery is slow, and he manages only one great line ("I'm all about my Jacksons, Lincolns, and Reagans / Whenever them make them"). He mostly just sounds tired.

I've enthused plenty about Wayne's recent prodigious output, but that constant activity also has a downside: when he has to step up and record a big, memorable verse, he may not be ready. He didn't have a problem stealing "We Takin' Over" away from everybody else involved, but "Barry Bonds" should be a big song, and Wayne sounds bored and amotivated, almost like he's starting to burn himself out. Of course, one just-OK verse in a year during which he's released probably hundreds of great ones is hardly cause for alarm, but I worry what might happen if Wayne spreads himself too thin. He's been continually pushing back Tha Carter 3's release date, using the logic that he'll increase demand if he just keeps everyone hanging on a little longer. And it's an interesting idea; when some of his songs leak, he just goes and records more of them. But he can't keep this pace up forever, and I'm starting to think that maybe he should just put the damn album out before he tires himself out too badly.

Voice review: Robert Christgau on Kanye West's Late Registration Voice review: Hua Hsu on Kanye West's College Dropout Voice review: Jon Caramanica on Lil Wayne's Tha Carter 2 Voice review: Keith Harris on Lil Wayne's 500 Degreez

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