Review Summary: Mainstream rap sucks? Not anymore baby, not anymore.
Hip-hop has been both alive and dead recently. When it’s alive, it’s really alive: excellent singles from Chamillionaire and Kanye West have reached Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, underground rappers such as Blackalicious and Pharoahe Monch continue to enjoy an ever-rising profile, and two of the five albums given at least a 4.5 rating from Rolling Stone were hip-hop albums. But when it’s dead, there certainly is no denying it: Sean Kingston, Soulja Boy, Chris Brown, Hurricane Chris, MIMS, and T-Pain have all received large radio play (that speaks for itself), mixtape distributors are shut down everyday by the smarmy RIAA, and recent albums by acclaimed and talented hip-hop artists such as Outkast, Nas, and Public Enemy have been disappointing critically and financially. Hell, Interscope had to fabricate a supposed “sales battle” between 50 Cent and Kanye West, who are on the same label.
Where does Lil Wayne fit into all of this, you ask? Actually, Lil Wayne has managed to contribute to both sides of this equation: countless collaborations with untalented artists have resulted in countless ringtone hits, but underground mixtapes such as Da Drought 3
and Dedication II
have thrived commercially and critically. Lil Wayne manages to be as talented as the genre’s forbearers and as annoying as the hapless generation that inherited hip-hop. Lil Wayne’s biggest vice, besides the pointless collaborations, is that he can never achieve the same type of crackly greatness that he achieves on his mixtapes on an actual, RIAA-approved album. And this remains true: his Da Drought and Dedication tapes are much better than Weezy’s fifth album, Tha Carter II
. Those acclaimed mixtapes came after this release, so, rather than witnessing Weezy’s full talent, you instead witness his growth to his current state of the best mainstream rapper out there.
Tha Carter II
is a mixed bag, with some foreseen tracks (club-bangers such as “Fireman” and “Money on my Mind”) and some that are completely surprising (the smooth R&B track “Shooter”). Quite frankly, this album is a ***ing beast, lasting 77 minutes and spanning 22 varied tracks, and featuring the usual plethora of producers: Robin Thicke (who guests on “Shooter”), Heatmakerz, Big D, Yonny, and Cool & Dre are just some of the knob-twirlers featured on this album. The resulting sound is dark and soul-based, with less focus on the under-produced disco tracks that crowded earlier works by Wayne. These soul samples are the perfect companion to Weezy’s raspy voice, which even recalls Miles Davis.
Calling Tha Carter II
a coming-of-age album is admittedly corny, but there’s nothing more accurate to describe it with: in his earlier days, Weezy could never of pulled off a more raging freestyle than what “Tha Mobb” is, nor could he simultaneously sounded as laid-back and chilled as he does on “Fly In”. Weezy also keeps you guessing throughout, keeping with the tuneful soul found on “Tha Mobb”, adding a nimble reggae touch with “Mo Fire”, and even adding political commentary on “Feel Me”, where he states: “I got to bring the hood back after Katrina/Weezy F baby now the F is for FEMA”.
It’s a shame that Weezy doesn’t fill this album with as interesting of subject matter found on “Feel Me” or Dedication II’s excellent “Georgia Bush”. Most deal with the usual hip-hop matters: cars, drugs, the hood, killing every mother***er in the way. It’s all been done before, and Lil Wayne could easily apply his nimble flow to commentary that is both more realistic and more important. Tha Carter II
is admittedly overlong, as most albums that last 77 minutes are, and, while most songs here are as varied as it gets, some are just not memorable enough and get buried beneath the load of great material found here. Songs such as “I’m A Dboy”, which features a stoned and boring verse by label executive Birdman, “Hit ‘Em Up”, and “Oh No’ will be skipped often and should be skipped often, and probably should have been thrown away than cooked with these other spicy gems.
Tha Carter II
is a monumental growth for Lil Wayne, and maybe hip-hop in general. It manages to prove that you don’t need to be underground to be critically successful; that you don’t need big-name and talentless producers to produce your album, and that a mainstream hip-hop artist can actually fill an album with mostly good songs, and not just one great ringtone and twenty other boring ***heaps. Get used to hearing Lil Wayne’s nimble and raspy flow, because you are definitely going to hear it a hell of a lot more.