We can all breathe a sigh of relief. Lil Wayne has teased us for a couple of years, but now the gates on his highly guarded project are opening. Tha Carter III is really coming out, and we definitely won't be talking "grand opening, grand closing" on June 10. Despite his album leaking and the music industry suffering from an overall decline in sales, some experts are expecting Wayne to sell a million in his first week.
It's easily the most anticipated hip-hop LP since 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' five years ago. Weezy has earned every last accolade (including a space on our latest "Hottest MCs in the Game" list). It's not catching the vapors if you talk highly of someone who's really that great — great, not good. During the last three years, Wayne has grown to be the MC who challenges his listeners the most. He's been unorthodox in subject matter, flows, song structure, collaborations and beat selection. Predictability isn't on his radar. He hasn't been in the same neighborhood as conventional for quite some time.
Have there been some suspect verses or songs here and there on the litany of mixtapes we've heard him on over the past two years? Of course. How could there not be? It feels like we've heard hundreds of songs from him in that time frame. Other MCs have made a plethora of records as well, but we only hear their best work — or what they feel is their best work. Wayne hasn't had that luxury. His product has been so sought-after that his material has always been bootlegged.
Records like "I'm Me" and "I Feel Like Dying" have become instant classics simply through word of mouth and blog talk. At his concerts, tens of thousands recite these underground tunes like they've been top-10 hits. And we already know what's up when he does it officially. TCIII's first single, "Lollipop," is one of the biggest records of the year, going to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. "A Milli" is so huge on the streets, it feels like a #1 record.
Last week, Tha Carter III leaked. That's to be expected within two weeks of any hot album's release. Universal hasn't panicked and pushed up the date. The only tears on Wayne's face are tattooed. Everyone knows what they have on their hands: the first pure hip-hop classic of 2008.
This writer has had the chance to preview some of the records during this two-year-plus journey to Tha Carter III. Last summer, it was Cool & Dre playing a rough instrumental of "Phone Home," a furious ode to Wayne's seemingly superhuman ability to destroy every vocal booth. Dre made a movie right in the studio, telling me about a hook he had in mind that went, "Phone home! Phone home! If you feel like you're the best doing the Weezy We." The over-6-foot master producer did his Wayne-inspired jig, jumping and pointing one finger in the air, while the always, well, cool Cool smiled in approval. On the finished record, the rap extraterrestrial — straight from "planet Weezy" — channels his inner outer-limits inhabitant: "We are not the same, I'm a Martian/ Hip-hop is my supermarket/ Shopping cart filled with fake hip-hop artists."
Wayne himself rapped some lyrics from "Dr. Carter" for MTV News back in January while shooting pictures for his album artwork. Then he played "Lollipop," "A Milli" and a record that turned out to be "La La" on his tour bus around NBA All-Star Weekend. Needless to say, this writer never felt nervous about Birdman Jr. living up to the hype. Not just the hype of the album — the expectations for this project are probably some of the loftiest since Snoop dropped Doggystyle. But Wayne is also living up to the hype of being at the peak of his artistry and setting the standard for all other MCs this year, yesssirrr.
If Tha Carter III were a piece of architecture, it would be a cross between a rugged project building, a lush condominium complex and a fun house.
He starts off with "3 Peat," which is entertaining at every turn with its background violins, B-boy humor and soulful, unsystematic melody. "Swallow my words, taste my thoughts/ And if it's too nasty, spit it back at me," Weezy raps. "It's the New Orleans nightmare, money so old it's growing white hair."
Then there's Wayne and Jay-Z's second collaboration. "Mr. Carter" immediately reels you in with a sample that goes, "Hey, Mr. Carter/ Say, where you been?" Hov and Weezy engage in a back-and-forth of lunchroom rap. Which is not to say that anything they're saying is elementary. Quite the contrary. The track is a lyrical slugfest that will undoubtedly have all the kids at school debating who killed it the best. And the winner is ... us. Young Carter's opening verse describes how the four seasons hate him because he has all their signature traits. Later, elder Carter declares that he has no problem eventually passing the torch to Wayne: "I'm right here in my chair/ With my crown and my dear Queen B/ As I share mic time with my heir .../ Go farther, go further, go farther/ Is that not why we came?/ If not, don't bother."
Incidentally, "Comfortable" seems to be inspired by one of Beyoncé's big songs. It gives the man's perspective of dealing with a girl who thinks she's "irreplaceable." Babyface takes over on the hook, coming from obscurity and sounding as crisp as he did when he sang about paying some girl's rent back in the '80s. 'Face warns the woman not to take their relationship for granted: "If you don't love me, someone else will." Weezy F. Baby comes in saying, "To the left, to the lefty/ If you want to be my guest, you can step."
From its title, "Tie My Hands" sounds like another one of Wayne's freaky tales, especially when you see that ladies' man Robin Thicke is the track's guest. Instead, the New Orleans Fireman spits social commentary about tragedy in his hometown: "They try to tell me keep my eyes open/ My whole city underwater, some people still floatin'/ Then they wonder why black people still votin', 'cause your president's still jokin'/ Take away the football team, the basketball team, now all we got is me to represent New Orleans/ No governor, no help from the mayor/ Just a steady beatin' heart and a wish and a prayer."
Album closer "Misunderstood" gives a humanistic look at Dwayne Carter and ends with a calm but seething invective against the the Reverend Al Sharpton and anybody else who has protested hip-hop music.