Picking Apart Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III, Part 3
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And now the big finish. This has been a weird couple of days for the comments section: some people accusing me of dickriding Wayne, others accusing me of hating on him, others actually engaging in some interesting debate about what, exactly, these songs and this album mean. A few people seem confused on one point, so let me just clear that one up real quick: I did not leak Tha Carter III. You fucking idiots.
11. "Lollipop." Already went in on this one here, but something interesting has happened since I wrote that: "Lollipop" has become Wayne's "Hard Knock Life," the song that finally turns him into a for-real pop-music threat. Hearing it finally in the context of the album, it remains a total curio, thank God; as much as I like the song, I don't think I could handle anyone trying to remake it fifteen times. And so here, in the late-middle of the tracklist, it's as much weird excursion as it is triumphant moment. I managed to avoid hearing the uncut version until the album leaked, and it's striking just how vivid and physical it is: "In the middle of the bed, give and getting head." This is a total unapologetic fuck-song, and it's the rare rap song that actually seems to take pleasure in this stuff. One quibble: I wish the guitar solo from the video was on the album-version. I love that thing.
12. "La La." David Banner's beat is plinky-plonk circus-funk that reminds me of the first Eminem album, and it has the same effect as a lot of those tracks. We're in fucking-around territory here, everyone involved trying to outdo everyone else in the shit-talking department, nobody taking anything too seriously. For some reason this is totally different from "La La La," a mixtape track that everyone loved, and it seems almost willfully perverse for Wayne to excise that song but leave another one with an almost identical title. So maybe that mocking jumprope kids-singing melody is just meant to annoy? I sort of hope so. Wayne loves Eminem, and Eminem used to intentionally annoy all the time. That screwed-up hook is all kinds of catchy; I was singing along by the time the second chorus hit. Wayne sounds like he's having fun on his verse here: making one of the album's several Macho Man Randy Savage references, throwing similes around haphazardly. I like how he caps off like fifty punchlines of varying quality with this: "Wittier than comedy, nigga write a parody / But I ain't telling jokes [long pause] apparently." He's totally telling jokes, and maybe he's acknowledging that a whole lot of people have already written parodies of his style. (My wife Bridget wrote my favorite Lil Wayne parody last year, when I wouldn't stop doing his "We Takin' Over" verse: "Tom, shut up with all that 'I am a weasel and you don't know who I am' stuff." She got his voice down perfectly.) After that line, though, Wayne switches abruptly from blank-like-blank brag-talk to more serious stuff about his daughter and his bank full of pride. Brisco, the only Cash Money-affiliated guest on the whole album, has an OK verse with a nice line about how he's higher than gas prices. (In fact, Brisco is the only Southern rapping guest on the whole album. Everyone else comes from New York: Jay, Fab, Juelz, Busta. The Southern rapper's inferiority complex will never die.) Busta's verse is fun, but he somehow manages to come with a single worthwhile punchline; it's like he thinks this is a serious song. It's not.
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13. "You Ain't Got Nuthin." As of right now, my favorite song on the album, and Wayne doesn't even have that much to do with why. Can we talk about this Fabolous verse for a second? Oh my God. I mean, Jesus fuck. That thing is basically flawless and quite possibly the best thing Fab's ever done, though I have to listen to "Breathe" again to make good and certain. Seriously, I thought about not even writing about the song and just copying that verse out word-for-word instead. The Xzibit thing? The Wayans brothers riff that goes right into the the pasta riff? The total haughty disdain he brings to every single word? Seriously, Fab basically proves himself to be the last best hope of circa-99 super-ignorant head-knock Jeep-beat NY rap, and it's a damn shame Ruff Ryders didn't get to him before DJ Clue did way back when. Alchemist's beat here is perfect for him, too; it's the sort of hammering monolithic shit that Swizz Beatz never does anymore. For the past week, it's been on a constant loop in my head. Juelz Santana, who shows up second, also goes in really, really hard, overemphasizing every word and coming up with some truly wicked punchlines. I love this: "Haven't ya all heard? / Y'all all herbs / I stick toothpicks in y'all hors d'oeuvres." In the very first Status Ain't Hood ever, I said Juelz was basically garbage, and he's only gotten around to disproving that in the past year or so. Right now, I'm confident I can put that sentiment to bed. Too bad nobody's willing to release Juelz Santana albums anymore. And maybe that's what's so encouraging about the first half of this song: these two guys have had moments of greatness in the past, but they're both total B-listers. Given the chance to give hardcore, bloody-minded verses that people will actually hear, though, they come out smashing. Both of them sound completely in control. Wayne doesn't quite keep up. This would've been the perfect moment for Wayne to unleash his inner cold-hearted demon, the one from "Best Rapper Alive" or his verse from Paul Wall's "March 'N' Step." Instead, he sort of skips maniacally around the track, coming with a few great lines and a few clunkers, generally giving the impression that he's not all that focused. He more than makes up for it on the song's hook, though. Wayne's turning into one of my favorite hook-singers in rap, even though he can't actually sing or anything, because he's willing to screech and rasp and do all the things R&B singers used to be willing to do. Wayne's a master at building a sense of internal drama, and I love how he starts out singing the chorus all calm and flat and then, later on, builds into a desperate scream, repeating that hook over and over as the beat strips itself down to a few impeccably timed drum-hits. Just a monster of a song.
14. "Let the Beat Build." I love that Kanye, even with his recent space-disco fixation, is still sometimes willing to pile up hall-of-mirrors soul vocals like this, and I love that he's willing to outsource the drums to Deezle, someone who knows how to make them kick a whole lot harder than Kanye himself does. (At least that's how I imagine the division of labor on this track: Kanye on the sample, Deezle on the drums. Maybe I'm wrong.) The rapping grandma from The Wedding Singer would sound amazing over this. But Wayne takes it further than just about anyone else would, and that's where that sense of internal drama comes in again. He keeps the beat changing, and he keeps talking to it, telling the drums when to come back in or to disappear, singing along with it. At the beginning, he lets a whole verse go before the drums even kick in, giving him the opportunity to try this circular near-rhythmless spoken-word delivery. But then those drums slowly make their presence felt, and Wayne adjusts his flow accordingly. And throughout there's this great sense of wonder in his voice, sort of the vocal equivalent of the face Jay-Z makes when Timbaland plays him the "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" beat in "Fade to Black." Wayne knows he's working with a thing of magic here. By the last verse, he's stopped riding the beat and started ducking in and out of it, letting go with quick syllable-clusters like a kid trying out a new toy. Everyone who's said that this song should end the album is totally, absolutely right.
15. "Mrs. Officer." Worst song on the album, hands down, and even this one I sort of like. This is as knowingly silly as song-concepts come: Wayne raps about having sex with a policewoman. That's it. That's the whole thing. It'd be irredeemably cheeseball even if there wasn't already a Red Hot Chili Peppers song about the exact same thing. Wayne should not be stealing song ideas from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He also shouldn't be hiring Bobby Valentino to go "wee-ooh-wee-ooh-wee." Didn't Disturbing Tha Peace just drop that guy? And does Valentino rap near the end of this song? Because someone other than Wayne raps, and whoever it is sounds just like Plies. I'm not sure I'm ready to deal with the idea of Bobby Valentino's rapping voice sounding just like Plies. And this little joke of a song goes on at least a minute and a half too long. But I still can't hate it; it's too gentle and unassuming and funny. There's a sunny, utopian lions-with-lambs thing about Wayne and the cop getting together: it's two natural enemies coming together, love or at least sex conquering all. The cop knows what Wayne's up to, but she doesn't care: "She know I'm raw, she know I'm from the streets / And all she wants me to do is fuck the police." I still skip the track most of the time, but I don't hate it.
16. "Don't Get It (Misunderstood)." The iconic Nina Simone sample is a total classic-rap signifier, like the baby picture on the album cover, and we know this is Wayne's serious song before he ever stops rapping. Except it never quite turns into a serious rap song; on the first two verses, Wayne is more concerned with conjuring evocative imagery than with making a central point: "Dropping ashes in the Bible / I shake them out and they fall on the rifle." He sounds awesome talking this purposeful nonsense, but then he stops rapping spending the last seven minutes of a ten-minute song going off on a freeform spoken-word rant about unjust mandatory-sentencing laws and Al Sharpton. Those slow, unhurried pronouncements sound like something Isaac Hayes would've done, but Hayes probably would've written down what he was going to say beforehand, and Wayne is pretty clearly just going off the top of his unbelievably stoned brain. When he says he's going to take off his glasses so he can see the look in somebody's eyes when he says fuck Al Sharpton, there's a muted clink in the background; he's clearly actually putting his glasses down on a desk. It's hard to say why Wayne doesn't actually rap about this stuff. Wayne's definitely one of those rappers who's more articulate when he's rapping than when he's just talking. (Actually, that's pretty much every rapper.) On "Georgia Bush," he talked politics and brought a fierce urgency to what he was saying. And it's not like the things he's talking about don't lend themselves toward actual rapping. But maybe the point here is that Wayne is a total stoner, someone fully willing to end his album with seven minutes of ranting, sort of like that last track on The College Dropout, which I don't think I've ever heard more than once. (That was Kanye being defiant and overambitious, though, and I'm pretty sure this is just Wayne being weeded out of his head.) If the album had ended with "Let the Beat Build" rather than this, he'd be going out on a triumphant note, not a self-indulgent one. But then maybe the whole point of Tha Carter III is that Wayne has earned his self-indulgence. Nobody can tell him anything anymore.
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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