Picking Apart Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III, Part 2
Assassinate me, bitch (I like this cover better than the real one)
And here we go again. For the record, the tracklist I'm using here is the most common tracklist I've seen, the first one someone posted in the comments section yesterday. This is still a leak tracklist we're working with, and it could be totally wrong; someone in the comments section earlier today posted what he claims is the retail tracklist, and it's a whole lot different from what I'm writing about here. That's fine. I'm still going with that first list, since that's the first order I heard these songs in. Stubborn willful ignorance is how I roll.
6. "Phone Home." For the second time, a pretty, melodic song leads into one with a fake-pretty intro, a bait-and-switch that really keeps the album moving. Here, those "Comfortable" strings dissolve into a tinkly piano that sounds like the thing that happened at the end of those "the more you know" NBC PSAs, except the piano suddenly turns sinister and eerie Halloween-theme bells come in and someone mumbles that he's a martian and a female computer-voice, sort of like the voice of Kanye's spaceship computer on the Glow in the Dark tour, greets us from Planet Weezy, with a keyboard clacking in the background for some reason. And then the beat kicks in, finally, forty seconds in. "Phone Home" sounds like Wayne's attempt to remind us all that he's a total fucking nutjob after two straight songs of relatively earthly concerns. The song's whole concept, that Wayne is actually an alien, is a bit forced. Wayne sounds weird enough when he's just rapping regularly that he doesn't need to tell us over and over again just how weird he is; it's obvious enough already. But, then, he doesn't exactly smack us over the head with it either; this is pretty much just a straight brag-rap track, one he probably freestyled in some syrup-assisted fugue-state, which is to say that his verses here sound a whole lot like his recent guest-verses. Pretty sure the first reference to syrup comes here, too: "Ain't you ain't shit if you ain't never been screwed up / Flow so sick make you want to throw your food up." I've been screwed up before; it just meant I fell asleep watching Cops. It was pretty boring. And that syrup thing worries me; throughout this album, Wayne sounds like someone who isn't long for this world. After Pimp C, I wince whenever any rapper talks about the stuff. But Wayne's apparent syrup addiction hasn't kept him from coming up with weird, funny punchlines; most of his lyrics on this track fit that description. I like the "I could get your brains for a bargain, like I bought it from Target / Hip-hop is my supermarket, shopping cart full of fake hip-hop artists" bit, mostly because I like the image of Wayne wheeling one of those red plastic shopping carts through the fluorescent-lit Target aisles, pulling people's brains off the shelf and dropping them in. Camille Dodero thought that he was making a gay joke with the "I'm a bear with black and white hair, so I'm polar" bit, so comfortable with his sexuality that he could just go ahead and play off all those gay rumors, but I'm pretty sure he just doesn't know what bear means. The alien/Elian Gonzalez thing is goofy as hell, but it works because Elian Gonzalez already was an alien, at least in the way Lou Dobbs uses the term. Wayne has exactly one iconic moment here: "They don't make em like me no more / Matter fact, they never made them like me before." He immediately follows it up with "I'm rare like Mr. Clean with hair," which might actually be the dumbest thing he's ever said. That's kind of the bargain with Wayne: he'll say something utterly badass, and then he'll derail it with some gleeful stupidity, and you kind of have to take the dumb stuff with the great stuff. It helps if you learn how to love the dumb stuff as well, since it's really funny and all. The guy screaming on the hook sounds like DJ Clue or Swizz Beatz or somebody.
7. "Dr. Carter." Another goofy concept song in fact, this might be the goofiest concept-song ever, something that, like, Kidz in the Hall might come up with: Lil Wayne is a doctor who saves rappers. Except (and Zach Baron pointed this out) his patients keep dying! He's a really bad doctor! In fact, the only time he actually manages to save a patient (hip-hop itself, see) is when he stops dispensing advice on how the patients should carry themselves and just goes back to his hilarious nonsense boasts: "Swagger tighter than a yeast infection / Fly, go hard like geese erection." Geese erection! The Swizz Beatz beat sounds like Madlib chopping up the Terrence Blanchard score to some Spike Lee movie, shivery bass-plucks and tumbling organic snares underneath big, impressionist string-swells. It's beautiful, really. And I really like the idea of Wayne doing a song as goofy as this one, since he's already a fundamentally goofy character. His acting on the between-verses snippet-skits is hilarious; when the nurse (who sounds like like the computer from "Phone Home") describes the symptoms, he just grimaces his displeasure. This might also be the song on the album where Wayne sticks hardest to the beat, not trying to run circles around it the way he does elsewhere. He uses his voice expertly here, starting out all nonchalant but gradually building in intensity throughout the verses as the music builds up and the patient finally dies. When he gets to the end of the last verse, the one where he finally saves hip-hop, there's a triumph in his voice that transcends the ridiculousness of the concept.
8. "Tie My Hands." Wayne's done joking around for a minute. The last time he hosted Robin Thicke on a track, it was on the sticky, propulsive Southern soul-jam "Shooter." This time, things are a whole lot lighter and low-key, Thicke intoning that the only thing that can save us is compassion, then cooing wordlessly over fleet little guitar-curlicues and organ-squeaks, the track just delicately breathing in the background. There's no more cackle in Wayne's voice, just a hard, purposeful mutter: "They talk that freedom matters / But they didn't even leave a ladder, damn." The Carter 2 came out immediately after Katrina hit, and Wayne barely mentioned his city's devastation on it. Here he does talk about it, but he's not bringing the straight-up political invective that he brought to "Georgia Bush." Instead, he's offering himself up as a beacon of hope to a beaten-down city. That's a total ego-move, but it's not not an unearned or a grating one because he keeps the misery surrounding him as the focal point: "They tried to tell me keep my eyes open / My whole city's underwater, some people still floating / And they wonder why black people still voting / Cuz your president's still choking." I like the loaded delicacy of this image: "No governor, no help from the mayor / Just a steady-beating heart and a wish and a prayer." On the third verse, he raps to some anonymous "you," telling someone that there's a way out, a vague message but a real one anyway. Thicke's bit about "I work at the corner store / We all got problems problems" is completely disingenuous, just like the "Hi, my name is Bob and I work at my job" stuff from Justin Timberlake's "Losing My Way," especially since Thicke's the son of a sitcom star who never worked at a corner store and who might not even have problems problems. But I liked "Losing My Way," and I like this, too. Thicke's hook is an easy and unforced bit of pretty falsetto-soul adornment, but what matters on this song is Wayne's determination-is-all motivational-speaker stuff. This isn't, like, Jeezy ignoring the profound misery all around him; that bring-yourself-up talk means a whole lot more when the speaker acknowledges and sympathizes with what it is you might have to rise up out of.
9. "Shoot Me Down." Tense, churning martial studio-rock from Kanye West, of all people. Wayne's back to bragging, not caring whether he makes sense or not: "My picture should be in the dictionary next to the definition of definition." What the hell does that mean? Ah, it's "Because repetition is the father of learning." Actually, that doesn't help at all, but it sounds pretty awesome. So maybe Wayne isn't consistently making sense, but there's grim purpose in his verses here; he's not playing anymore. This is Wayne's song for his haters, and it's not epic and overblown like "Playin' With Fire"; it's stressed and depressed and angry, and maybe there's a bit of self-doubt in here. On the other hand, though, Wayne plays a guitar-solo on this one, so maybe I'm looking for self-doubt in the wrong place. Either way, though, we're in emo territory, and the chorus plays the ying to Wayne's threatening yang. A singer, soft and falsetto-y like Chester Bennington but in a good way, asks that we please not shoot him down, and it's a plea, not a demand. Last week, I wrote that "We Made It," Busta Rhymes' actual Linkin Park collabo, loses the appeal of Linkin Park because it loses the vulnerability at the root of that band's appeal. Wayne and Kanye have essentially made a fake Linkin Park song, but they've kept that vulnerability intact. At the end of the song, Wayne shoots an enemy down, but it turns out that he's just shooting at a mirror, then finishes thusly: "And I've done it before / Please don't make me do it no more / Now watch me soar / Where the fuck is my guitar / Now roar." And then he plays the terrible-but-great guitar-solo.
10. "Playin' With Fire." The other rock song, guitar-squeedles revving up underneath a fire-breathing chorus from gospel vet Betty Wright, apparently not a sample or anything. (That chorus bites the hell out of the Rolling Stones' "Play With Fire," as well, but, I mean, I can think of a whole lot of worse things to bite.) Wayne's back to full-on insanity, saying the word pussy about fifty million times and making me laugh right out loud the first time I heard his David Beckham line. Wayne gets a whole lot of mileage here swinging abruptly from violent rasping to eerie calm: "I feel caged in my mind / It's like my flow doing time / I goes crazy inside, but when it comes out it's [suddenly calm] fine." One riff extends Wayne's bravado to near-heretical levels, Wayne coming more unhinged with every syllable: "Assassinate me, bitch / Cuz I'm doing the same shit Martin Luther King did / Checking in the same hotel, in the same suite, bitch / Same balcony like 'Assassinate me, bitch!'" We have no idea who he's even talking to. Another extended riff gives us a scarily vivid childhood tableau: "Mama named Cita / I love you, Cita / Remember when your pussy sucker husband tried to beat ya? / Remember when I went into the kitchen, got the cleaver? / He ain't give a fuck, I ain't give a fuck neither / He could see the devil, see the devil in my features." That's archetypal blues-imagery right there: Wayne tries to do good, tries to protect his family, and discovers the evil in his soul in the process. Not too much else to say about this one except that it's Wayne's epic, overblown "November Rain" moment and that it fucking bangs. I can see this one becoming my favorite song on the album pretty easily. It's not now, though. We'll get to which song I'm talking about tomorrow.
Voice review: Jon Caramanica on Lil Wayne & DJ Drama's Dedication Voice review: Keith Harris on Lil Wayne's 500 Degreez
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