Thursday, March 20, 2014

A look at Lil Wayne

This should be an interesting post right here, and no you're not reading the wrong blog, lol. Family members, friends and loyal readers of mine know that when it comes to Southern hip hop, I'm very hard on that region, and one of the main reasons is the very subject of this post, Lil Wayne. I've never been one of his biggest fans, but I can admit that I've liked bits and pieces of his material over the years. I'm also aware of some of his questionable actions (the photo with him and Baby, uh, sharing a kiss, his claims of being the best rapper alive, wearing women's clothes, etc), but I'm not going to utilize this post to talk about those things. I'll be focusing on the music, obviously.

Before I get to his solo work, a word on Cash Money if I may. I was not a fan of this crew during their "prime", but I have heard albums such as Juvenile's "400 Degreez", BG's "Chopper City In The Ghetto" and Hot Boys' "Guerrilla Warfare". It was clear at the time that Juve and BG were the focal points. Turk and Lil Wayne were along for the ride, but the focus was never truly on them. In the case of Lil Wayne, this would change in 1999 and that's where I start with his solo career.

The first 4

Wayne's solo debut, "Tha Block Is Hot", was released on November 2, 1999. For obvious reasons, I was not looking forward to this album, nor was it on my radar. A few of my friends recommended I check it out, which I did. Needless to say, I was not impressed and it's #2 after Ja-Rule's "The Last Temptation" in terms of albums I can't stand. "Loud Pipes" remains one of the worst songs I've ever heard, lyrically and production wise (NO chance of a revisit). The SOLE bright spot on that album was Mannie Fresh's production. I never checked out "Lights Out" (although I recall liking "Get Off The Corner") and "500 Degreez. The career turnaround for Wayne came about with the first installment of "Tha Carter", which featured the Mannie Fresh produced "Go D.J.", a good song. And speaking of "Tha Carter", that brings me to it's second installment.

Tha Carter II

"Tha Carter" was decent, but it pales in comparison to its 2005 sequel. There was a noticeable progression with Wayne on this album, especially on a lyrical level, and it showed. This is by far Wayne's best album and he essentially peaked here. "Tha Mobb", a 5:20 DOPE opener, is likely the best thing he's ever done. He follows this up with other highlights such as "Fly In" (and "Fly Out"), "Money On My Mind", the Kurupt assisted "Lock and Load", "Fireman", "Mo Fire", "Oh No", "Hustler Musik", "Shooter" (featuring Robin Thicke) and the title track. I didn't care for his take on "Paid In Full" with "I'm a D-Boy", but overall he was at his best on this album, and quite frankly he wouldn't be the same again. 4 stars for "Tha Carter II" and I'll more to say about this album at the end.

Tha Carter III

Ah, this album. Well, the hype for it in 2008 was huge. After "Carter II" and a slew of guest appearances and mixtapes (most notably "Dedication 2" with DJ Drama), Wayne was one of the hottest artists in hip hop. The buzz surrounding him and this album almost hasn't been seen since. I've heard this album a few times, trying to see if all the hype was justified. "3 Peat" could've been a much better opener, while the Jay-Z featured "Mr. Carter" was not the hot collabo it was shaped up to be. "A Milli" was quite the popular beat to freestyle to in 08 and it received tons of radio play. The album's best song, "Dr. Carter", is also its most creative. It finds Wayne, in the role of a doctor, metaphorically trying to resurrect hip hop, seemingly from the dead. Interesting. I also liked "You Ain't Got Nuthin", which featured Juelz Santana and Fabolous (the latter seemed to tone down his verse in an effort to not completely steal the show from Wayne) and the T-Pain assisted "Got Money". The rest of the album is rather hit or miss. Due to copyright issues, "Playing With Fire" was removed from the album and replaced with "Pussy Monster", which is as awful as the title sounds. "Mrs. Officer" and "Lollipop" were two commercial successes but CRITICAL failures, and the latter signaled a TOTAL change in style, for all the wrong reasons. I've said for the longest time that this was one of the most overrated albums ever, but I *might* revisit this out of sheer curiousity. The mega hype, buzz and promotion paid off in spades:

*it sold 1,005,545 copies in its first week, going on to sell 3.6 million copies in the United States (certified triple platinum)

*it received three Grammy awards (Best Rap Album, which it clearly did NOT deserve, Best Rap Song for "Lollipop", another one undeserved and Best Rap Solo Performance for "A Milli")

Post Carter III

I never bothered to check out his rock album "Rebirth", or both parts of "I Am Not a Human Being". It was at this point that he started becoming lazy, incoherent, uninspired and would just say anything, and I do mean anything. He also started to rap about his sexual prowess on a consistent basis, and the less said about it the better. "Tha Carter IV" was clearly the worst of the series, and when the two best songs on your album does not feature you, that's not good (I'm referring to the "Outro" that featured DOPE verses by Nas, Bun-B and Busta Rhymes and Andre 3000 & Tech N9ne came through on an "Interlude"). "6 Foot 7 Foot", which did nothing for an upcoming Cory Gunz, was good for a minute, but quickly got old. For reasons escaping most people, this album moved an incredible 2,296,000 copies.

He has dropped several mixtapes, but the ones I want to focus on are "Dedication 2" and "No Ceilings". Coming off "Tha Carter II" and the first "Dedication", Wayne was on the biggest (and best) hot streak of his career. The second "Dedication" was not only the best of the series with DJ Drama, it's his best mixtape in my opinion. I definitely recommend checking out "Cannon (AMG Remix)", which also features Freeway, Willie the Kid, Detroit Red and Juice. It's tight as hell. As a matter of fact, here you go!

 I remember a lot of people talking about the "No Ceilings" mixtape in late 2009, but I didn't see what the fuss was about. I also remember hearing people say he did a better job over Jay-Z's "D.O.A. (Death of AutoTune)" than Jay did and I strongly disagreed with that.

Guest appearances, the notable ones

 "Salute Me" (Fabolous' "Loso's Way")

"Last of a Dying Breed" (Ludacris' "Theater of the Mind", if not for two high powered verses from Luda, Wayne would've stole the show here)

"Forgot About Me" (Scarface's "Emertius", also features Bun-B)

"Death Wish" (Jadakiss' "The Last Kiss")

"Swagga Like Us" (T.I.'s "Paper Chase", also features Jay-Z and Kanye West, this verse would've been MUCH better without the autotune)

"Forever" (Eminem's "Relapse Refill", also features Kanye West and Drake; Wayne's verse here was slightly better than the "Swagga Like Us" verse)

At a glance, the man's track record is impressive, there's no denying that. He may be the only artist who has an album (plus a few songs) I like, but overall I wouldn't call myself a fan, if that makes sense. I've often said that had he stuck with the style from "Tha Carter II", I'll probably feel differently about him, but instead he switched things up with that "Carter III" album and never looked back. To go dramatically from a hot streak, surprising the most critical fans of your work, to essentially feeling you can say whatever and get by is a HUGE drop, lacking effort, plus coming lazy, incoherent and uninspired as mentioned. The differences between Wayne in 2005 and recent times is like day and night, and I seriously doubt we'll see him return to that level of quality again. Word has it that not only will he release the fifth installment of "Tha Carter", but it may be his last album. I take any news of retirements in hip hop with a grain of salt, especially from him, but this is tucked under the "wait and see" file. Am I anticipating it? Can't say that I am. Overall, I'd definitely recommend "Tha Carter II" and the "Dedication 2" mixtape. Check out the first and third installments of  "Tha Carter" if you haven't heard them before and avoid albums like "Rebirth", both parts of "I Am Not A Human Being" and "Tha Block Is Hot" like the plague (you may want to check out Mannie Fresh's instrumentals instead, except "Loud Pipes"). 

Let me know your thoughts on this post and your views on Lil Wayne!

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