Travis Barker never thought he’d be in the tabloids
There’s this newish trend going on in rap where a rapper reaches a certain level of popularity and then gives an interview where he rains monsoon-clouds of condescension down on his peers, naming names and claiming to be better than everyone else. Over the last couple of years, 50 Cent and the Game have elevated it to an art form, pushing each other on to greater heights of deliriously entertaining egotism. The Dipset guys do it with a sort of giggly fourth-grade charm. Jay-Z does it with restrained, gentlemanly panache, dropping major hints but rarely going so far as to point fingers directly. And Lil Wayne became the newest member of the club when he went hog-wild in the new Complex cover story, firing shots at Jay-Z, Clipse, Pharrell, Young Buck, and I don’t even know who else. A quick survey of the newsstands near the Voice offices didn’t turn up any copies of the magazine, but Nah Right is nice enough to share the grizzly details. On Jay-Z: “I don’t like what he’s saying about how he had to come back because hip-hop’s dead and we need him … It’s not your house anymore, and I’m better than you.” On Clipse: “I don’t see no fucking Clipse. This is a fucking legend you’re talking to right here. How many years them ninjas been around?” No word yet on what he said about Young Buck, but Buck’s been throwing shots for a while now, so it was only a matter of time before Wayne retaliated. The Clipse is pretty silly: it basically amounts to Wayne claiming that he, not Pharrell, made it cool to wear Bape; I can’t imagine too many people really care about that. But the Jay-Z thing hits close to home, and it would be a lot easier to dismiss if it weren’t true.
Wayne did something like this a couple of years ago, when he ended “Bring it Back” by saying, “Best rapper alive / Since the best rapper retired.” At the time, the line was basically a joke. Wayne had gotten a lot better since his kiddie-rap days, but he wasn’t getting near anyone’s top ten list. As recently as last October, I wrote that “it would take a global apocalypse at the very least to make Lil Wayne the best rapper alive.” This was widely seen as an attempt to endear himself to Jay; he was widely rumored to be moving from Cash Money to Roc-A-Fella, and he might’ve named his album The Carter to remind everyone that he shared a last name with Jay. On the first Dedication mixtape, Wayne confirmed that he’d been in negotiations with Jay, but he leveraged that buzz to get himself a better deal with Cash Money, becoming the figurehead president of the label that signed him when he was twelve or fifteen, depending on who you believe.
Wayne has improved at an unprecedented rate since then; on every new song, he sounds even more in love with the sound of his own voice, with all the different ways he can twist words into pretzels and spirals. He’s putting out records at an absurdly prolific rate, jumping on everyone’s remix and singlehandedly keeping the mixtape market interesting. I can’t think of a single rapper these days who has anything like his combination of cartoonish confidence and total command of the English language. Wayne rarely gets sentimental, and he’s not the type of rapper who spends a lot of time dwelling on anyone’s struggle. Instead, he takes the rampant materialism in rap as a formalist challenge, finding as many ways as he can to play around within its rigid boundaries. And he’s kept up with the “best rapper alive” stuff, explaining on Dedication 2 that it’s not meant to take literally, that every rapper who takes his craft seriously should consider himself the best rapper alive. But he’s also gone a long way toward proving that it isn’t hyperbole.
His new mixtape, Lil Weezyana, is a great example. The tape should be a total throwaway; Wayne’s using it to introduce his unbelievably boring Young Money crew, and the whole thing is badly paced and loaded down with a lot of monochromatic original tracks. With any other rapper, I’m not sure I could get through it once. But Wayne’s bizarre hiccuping flow is completely on throughout, and I got tired trying to keep track of all the ridiculously great quotables he drops in the first five tracks alone. (Quick examples: “And a ninja drink like the late Fred Sanford / And a ninja smoke like there is no cancer / And I know this world is so cold and deceiving / But I keep my head up like my nose was bleeding,” “I need vegetables / Is weed vegetables? / I passed commas; right now, I’m seeing decimals.”) Wayne’s ad-libs even makes his generic backup guys more interesting through the sheer force of their charisma. (Mac Maine: “Wayne said let it rain on ’em.” Wayne, totally prim and matter-of-fact: “I did.”) The mixtape also includes “I Like Dat,” Wayne’s oddly disarming olive branch to his former Cash Money labelmates: “It’s something about the Hot Boys that you don’t know / I got a lot of love for them that I don’t show.” Never mind that he and Juvenile were exchanging veiled death threats earlier this year; Wayne’s the type of guy who can constantly contradict himself and turn himself into a more compelling figure in the process. (He’s extended and retracted that exact same olive branch before, with “I Miss My Dogs” from The Carter and the flurry of dis tracks that followed.)
Jay has commanded that same attention for years, but he’s a sad, desiccated husk of his former self on Kingdom Come, grumbling about young folk and bragging about being friends with Gwyneth Paltrow. He’s lost edge, and Wayne has gained it. Lil Weezyana has Wayne’s version of “Show Me What You Got,” and it’s scary how much sharper it is than Jay’s fatuous, indolent original. Before Wayne told us he was better than Jay, he showed us. And when Jay descends from his mountain to proclaim his own massive importance, I can’t blame Wayne for getting a little upset.
Voice review: Keith Harris on Lil Wayne’s 500 Degreez