Saturday, 7 June 2008

Album Review: Tha Carter III

One look at the Nas and Biggie-aping cover tells you all you need to know: this is Lil Wayne making a deliberate stab at greatness.

He’s made the ‘best rapper alive’ claims for long enough and after a series of momentous mixtapes, Weezy is clearly ready to prove his reputation with a long-player.

3 Peat, then, serves as a decidedly weak intro. Maestro’s puny synthetic production is far too weak to support Weezy’s bombast. As an opening gambit it’s no The Genesis and it’s certainly no Things Done Changed.

But after a false start, the superb Mr Carter marks the true beginning of Tha Carter III. The last time Wayne teamed up with fellow Carter Jay-Z on Jigga’s Hello Brooklyn 2.0, the results were disastrous. Not this time. Over Infamous’ surprisingly effective chipmunk gospel sample, the Carter pair spit about the troubles and travails of being the best rapper alive. At the song’s conclusion, in a telling moment, Weezy recites the verse from Jay-Z’s Lucky Me. You can sense the torch being passed.

Wayne returns to his natural habit of hyperactively babbling nonsense over a pair of blaring beats courtesy of Bangladesh and T-Pain on A Milli and Got Money, but Weezy’s finest string of consciousness is saved until the album’s conclusion. On the seven minute-plus DontGetIt, an unapologetically stoned Weezy cuts loose on laws concerning crack and cocaine, sex offenders, the media, Al Sharpton and the state of being black in America.

Then, of course, there’s Lollipop. It’s one of the year’s biggest jams for a reason – an obscenely colossal track that has Weezy make the du jour auto-tune effect his own. A minute too long and all too ubiquitous, by the end of 2008, it will still be the year’s defining track.

And yet, it isn’t even the outstanding song on Tha Carter III. That status is reserved for Dr Carter. With the statute of limitations up on Eminem's Guilty Conscience, Weezy tries his hand on his own three-part concept track. Wayne attempts to save three patients suffering from a lack of style, vocabulary and swagger, by brilliantly dissecting what it is that he does so well (“gotta work everyday, gotta not be cliché, you gotta stand out like Andre 3k”). Despite his skills and Swizz Beats’ masterful sampling of David Axelrod’s Holy Thursday, Weezy is only able to save one patient.

Sadly there are a couple of missteps along the way which prevent Tha Carter III attaining the all-time classic status Weezy so clearly seeks. The saccharine Comfortable falls well short of Kayne West’s usual production standards, David Banner’s glockenspiel sample on La La begins as novel and ends up irritating, and Phone Home veers a little too close to Kool Keith Black Elvis weirdness for it’s own good.

So while there’s plenty of evidence here to suggest that Wayne isn’t far away from producing an all-time classic, Tha Carter III isn’t it. A brief listen to Illmatic and Ready To Die is all you need to remind you that Weezy isn’t quite ready to join that exalted company, but he’s not far away.

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