Review Summary: Crass, catchy, and... clever?
I’d be hard pressed to say that I wasn’t a little excited about Tha Carter III
or that I actually felt like it would flop. With enough material to make six mixtapes (and then some) between the initial release of the well-received Tha Carter II
and his latest, the third in the Carter
trilogy, I figured it was a pretty safe bet that it would be more of the same (if we could count on the prolific rapper).
And then “Lollipop” happened.
Now some say this would be inevitable; some would say it was an artist at his edge. But Weezy and his crew figured out that the second he stopped talking about himself, and more about his di
ck, would be the second Lil’ Wayne would shoot somewhere to the top. Suddenly, Weezy had his Billboard hit (his first in the top ten), a feat that eluded him for so long. The track (a slinky, techo-funk of boom-bap and metaphors involving a wrapper, a lollipop, and something about hair) is the kind of grossly over sexualized babble that the genre is consistently criticized for, but there’s something about Weezy’s self-acknowledging apathetic performance, the song’s broken pace, and the laughably lazy writing that makes it campy and, God forbid, fun. “Lollipop” becomes then the perfect description for Tha Carter III
: crass, catchy, and almost knowingly horrible.
Now, with “Lollipop” on the table, doubt seemed necessary. It’d be easy to imagine the rest of Tha Carter III
going any number of ways depending on which single is blaring through your neighbor’s subwoofers, from the techno-controlled gangsta rap of T-Pain’s “Got Money” to the Bollywood redux “A Milli.” Tha Carter III
is noticeable then for not following any of them. Consider this to be Weezy’s actual ode to mixtapes, lacking any of the flow that albums like the excellent Da Drought 3
did. Instead, Tha Carter III
is scattershot, which oddly strengthens its faults, as if any lull in quality means that the next batch of producers can just reset the formula. Like a revolving door, producers fill every free space of Tha Carter III
, each bringing a distinct flair to their respective tracks.
Maestro makes an impressive opener with “3 Peat,” a slow-burning boom-bap that puts emphasis on violins to underscore Lil’ Wayne’s spit. Cool & Dre open up the extra-terrestrial horror score “Phone Home” with a subtle piano line tellingly reminiscent of early ‘50s sci-fi films, while Wyclef Jean gives Lil’ Wayne’s devilish croak in “Mrs. Officer” a jazzy bass line to work with, complete with an earnest backing choir. Only Streetrunner really fumbles with his work, giving “Playin’ With Fire” a gross ‘70s rock subtext that all but deteriorates under Weezy’s confused rambling. Interestingly enough, it’s Kanye West (who shows up here four times) that falls helplessly in the middle. West is obviously an able producer with an ear for hooks, but it seems that he's the only one not on the joke here, and he puts all he can into each track.
The first, “Comfortable,” is a breezy R&B track that Chris Brown would love; with Lil’ Wayne, it feels oddly standard, though Weezy shines through with a gripping flow. “Tie My Hands” feels like an off cut from FutureSex/LoveSounds
that lost to the equally shallow mumbling of "Losing My Way". “Let The Beat Build,” which mirrors its womanly sound clip like that of “A Milli”’s, could easily be a Graduation
b-side, and as the track’s most directly pop driven track, it feels very much like West’s baby. Even Weezy sounds displeased by it, but if his slick swagger that he tacks onto the end of the track is any indication, he’s doing it with a smirk: by giving West so many tracks to work with, West feels buttered up; a pawn to Weezy’s game. On the album’s best track, the smooth, cleverly self-aggrandizing “Dr. Carter” (featuring Lil’ Wayne’s best vocal performance, riding the horns and rhythmic section like a pro), he counts off the producers, calling “Dr. West one of the brightest.” That West never guests seems to be the point, like he’s slowly transitioning from standing in front of the mic to behind it, where he won’t be an enemy to Weezy but his ally.
But that’d be giving Lil’ Wayne too much credit, assuming that Tha Carter III
is anything more than just a pop album. Then again, there is the over-the-top approach to the top 40 formulas, how the best tracks are given to the album’s slowest and melodic cuts, and how “Lollipop” feels like Weezy’s answer to Britney Spears’ VMA performance. In that case, Tha Carter III
isn’t so much a product of its top 40 brethren than a statement, and Weezy, tired of playing second fiddle, decided to make it. From “Comfortable”’s hilarious Beyonce reference (“To the left / to the left … feeling irreplaceable"/listen to Beyonce”) to his consistent name-dropping (“Where the hell is Erykah Badu at"”; “Gotta stand out like Andre 3k”), Tha Carter III
is an album by Weezy’s stoner standards just to prove he could. Of course it’s still too long, tracks could have been shaved and cut, and there’s the ever present feeling of novelty wearing off, but there’s that horrible, horrible charm
, as if Weezy could snap his fingers and get back to his gangsta rap like nothing happened. I’d be damned to call it “clever,” cause, you know, that’d be implying that it’s anything more than just
a pop album, but “fun” could work.