By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Some rappers aspire to keep it real. Lil Wayne, it seems, aims to keep it surreal.
The New Orleans rapper opens his uneven new album, "Tha Carter III," with a manifesto about . . . well, it's not exactly clear.
As with many Lil Wayne songs, "3Peat" isn't really about something specific. Instead, it's a wild, winding showcase for Wayne's spontaneous non sequiturs. Over strings and synths and a booming drum track, the king of meandering metaphors rattles off a string of free-form lyrics about shooting grandmothers; babies being kidnapped; his own greatness; a near-death experience; Viagra; Adam Sandler; the new house he bought for his mother; ESPN; and (again) his greatness.
"I know what you watchin: Me !" he boasts in that distinctive raspy croak. "You watch me, you watch me/'Cause I be Weezy/Must-see TV."
As an album-opener, it's completely bizarre. It's also utterly compelling, which more or less sums up Lil Wayne's appeal.
At 25, Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. might not be the greatest rapper alive, as he's declared repeatedly, but he's certainly one of the weirdest and most magnetic.
Consider that he also raps like an alien on "Tha Carter III" ("Phone Home"); plays a hip-hop quack ("Dr. Carter"); spends most of an entire verse rhyming about Beyoncé songs (the Babyface duet "Comfortable"); fantasizes about getting it on with a policewoman ("Mrs. Officer"); suddenly starts thinking about rats (the dazzling "You Ain't Got Nuthin' on Me"); and closes the album with a 10-minute track (the Nina Simone-sampling "Dontgetit") in which he spends most of the time talking -- rambling, really -- about mandatory-sentencing laws and Al Sharpton.
Lil Wayne is nothing if not inexplicable, which even he seems to understand in his often-intoxicated state. "I can explain me in one word: Unexplainable," the pot-smoking, cough-syrup-guzzling rapper told the Guardian of London recently. (In that same interview, he also confirmed what anybody who's spent any time with his music has long suspected, telling the Guardian, "I'm crazy.")
"Tha Carter III" was the most anticipated rap album of 2007 before leaks pushed the release date into 2008 and Wayne started working anew on the album. The delays hardly diminished the anticipation; in fact, it increased as Lil Wayne continued to turn heads with his mix tapes and countless guest turns on other people's songs.
"Tha Carter III" doesn't quite live up to those lofty expectations, as it's a little bit too disjointed and self-indulgent for its own good, with a few too many nonsensical lyrics. "My picture should be in the dictionary next to the definition of definition," he announces on "Shoot Me Down." You don't say.
On a scale ranging from flat-out failure to game-changing masterpiece, "Tha Carter III" is merely really good -- which is disappointing given the buildup and the strength of some of Wayne's recent work, including the 2007 mix tape "Da Drought 3."
Perhaps he's become a little bit bored by his own brilliance. Or maybe he's just gassed: Wayne was so prolific last year that Vibe magazine published a list of the Top 77 Lil Wayne songs of 2007 -- a year in which he never actually released a proper studio album.
"Tha Carter III" has plenty of great moments, though. Wayne still has a knack for keen wordplay ("I don't O U like two vowels," he raps on the club banger "A Milli"), and he sounds particularly inspired on the post-Katrina lament "Tie My Hands," a duet with the blue-eyed soul singer Robin Thicke. "Let the Beat Build" is a standout, a shifty track on which Lil Wayne is at his swaggering, unhinged best.
And lead single "Lollipop" -- a down-and-dirty ode to oral sex -- showed that Wayne could frolic in the crossover commercial sandbox without reining in his own impulses to be outrageous and unconventional. The lewd song currently sits at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Lil Wayne, pop star? A surreal concept, indeed.
Lil Wayne will perform at the Virgin Mobile Festival on Aug. 10 at Pimlico Race Course.
DOWNLOAD THESE: "Let the Beat Build," "Tie My Hands," "You Ain't Got Nuthin' on Me"