Lil Wayne
Tha Carter III
Rating: 4 out 5 stars
Cash Money

Dan Feldman
Perhaps I am, indeed, the best rapper in the world. (COURTESY OF CASH MONEY)

There are very few things that can be said about Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III with any sort of certainty. This record, in the short time it’s been leaked and properly released, has been called everything from a basic failure to Wayne’s declaration as the greatest force in pop music. And yet the only thing that can be gleaned from Tha Carter III’s early sales reports and all of the critical chatter is that this, in the words of a friend, is an “indisputable event.”

After months of hype generated by downloadable mixtapes, Tha Carter III had one hell of a ceiling. Through alliterative masterpieces and club bangers, Wayne had raised the stakes for all rappers, but mostly for himself. When you’re the self-proclaimed “best rapper alive,” you’ve seriously gotta come with it. Tha Carter III is Wayne’s prophecy-fulfilling response.

If you’re looking for more showpieces like Tha Carter II’s epic “Tha Mobb” – a track that invariably proved to most that Wayne was truly one of the best MCs alive – you’ll be sorely disappointed. Rather than trying to raise or conform to the standard of what a great rapper is, Wayne reinvents the game. On Tha Carter III, Wayne’s seen recycling some of his rhymes from recent mixtapes, a fear of many die-hard fans looking for more cut-throat verses. But he only does so when trying to jump through the hoops everyone’s set for him, trying to meet traditional expectations – these scarce, various moments, then, become more of a side note than a detriment or signal of Wayne’s ineptitude.

Where Wayne truly shines is in his stylistic divergences (“Dr. Carter,” “Phone Home,” “La La,” etc.). On these tracks, Wayne is seen pushing the limits of what a mainstream rap powerhouse can do. The incredible Swizz Beatz-produced “Dr. Carter” is a improvised, jazz- driven concept track about Wayne’s M.D. MCing while attempting to save unnamed victims of hip-hop failure (“Respect is in the heart / So that’s where I’mma start / And a lot of heart patients don’t make it”), culminating in his boisterous claim, “Welcome back hip hop, I saved your life.”

An equally impressive production job is done on the heady “La La” (David Banner) – not to be confused with the mixtape-released “La La La.” The minimalist production features a wooden xylophone accompanied by a child La La-ing the melody alongside a sporadic bass pulse. Wayne’s lyrics aren’t particularly revelatory and frankly, they aren’t even the best we’ve heard from him in the past year and a half. But it’s the way that he uses his associative thought process in these scattershot beats that is so astonishing: form representing content.

The real moment at which Tha Carter III becomes more than just another Lil Wayne release is “Phone Home.” Wayne goes all George Clinton á la Starchild, proclaiming himself from another planet. Dubious and pretentious as it might seem, it’s the perfect sentiment to describe Wayne as an MC: He’s no longer what the mainstream saw him as, making a leap into more adventurous and, frankly, intellectual, literate territory. Sure, Tha Carter III has what will prove to be enormous radio hits (the already huge “Lollipop,” “A Milli” and “Got Money”) but you’d be hard-pressed to find another rapper willing to say “Lock, load, aim at any target / I could get your brains for a bargain, like I bought it, from Target.” It’s his ingenuity, nonchalance and desire to say any and everything that comes to his mind that will ultimately mark Wayne, and Tha Carter III, as undeniable classics.

Though, even with all the signs pointing toward this being Wayne’s coming out party, it’s all hearsay. Tha Carter III is put in a stasis that most records don’t ever approach. As it stands, this disc is a beautiful collection of very good – with few objectively great – tracks. Though it will almost certainly be known as the moment when Wayne became something entirely apart from his past incarnations, it could just come out that he’s actually a Martian.

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