Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lil' Wayne -- Carter III

Rating: 3/5 stars

Pros: Rap's biggest producers give Wayne "monumental" beats for his moment in the sun.

Cons: Seemingly inexhaustible lyricists running out of steam after more than a year of leaks and features.

Bottom Line: Wayne's best work remains scattered over mixtape scene.

Recommended Tracks:

Mr. Carter

Tie My Hands

On “Phone Home,” between calling himself a Martian and comparing himself to E.T., Lil’ Wayne declares “they don’t make ‘em like me no more / matter fact, they never made it like me before.” He’s right.

While many rappers freestyle their lyrics and even more abuse drugs, few take it to the extremes Wayne does. Throughout most of Tha Carter III he is rapping without a safety net — even he’s not sure what he’ll say next. He laughs at his own jokes, as if he’s just realizing what he said; occasionally, he loses his train of thought and starts rapping about something else.

On songs like “Got Money,” an auto-tune duet with T-Pain destined to be a club smash, his random boasting fits perfectly. Other times, the result is a mess — on “Let the Beat Build” he wastes a great beat with absolutely nonsensical rhymes. Many critics have praised his unique style as post-modern “free association” rapping. Less charitably, he’s babbling drug-induced nonsense.

But his recent work on the mix-tape scene blurred the line between these two distinctions — mixing his lyrical insanity with strong and powerful songwriting. It was these songs, along with his numerous feature appearances, that made the buzz for Tha Carter III so deafening. It’s been XXL’s most anticipated album since January 2007, and in the meanwhile, several of his mix tapes made it onto critical top 10 lists.

He’s had hundreds of songs released in the past few years, and the addition of any number of them would have greatly improved Tha Carter III. Instead, by the end of the album, a rapper with a seemingly endless amount of lyrical creativity has a song about sleeping with a female police officer who pulls him over (“Mrs. Officer”).

The production, mostly from A-list producers David Banner, Just Blaze, Swizz Beatz and Kanye West, carries the album. On the suitably epic “Mr. Carter,” Jay-Z drops by for a passing of the torch, telling Wayne “that I took so much money from the rap game, now it’s your go.”

But even in the digital age, albums are still an artist’s ultimate proving ground. For Wayne to claim the throne, he’ll have to leave the mix-tape game behind and do like Kanye: keep all his best stuff for himself.

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