When will a day go by that I don’t listen to an hour of Lil Wayne?
Why has Lil Wayne been blowing everything else off my Ipod for two weeks? First with the brand-newTha Carter III, then with the other five studio albums that I’ve since snapped up, or four of the “officIal” “bootleg” “mixtapes” ditto, plus disc 1 of Da Drought 3, where I first heard him this winter? (where can I find disc 2?). First reason’s obviously vocals. He’s called himself “greatest rapper alive/since the greatest rapper retired,” but when I play him back to back with Jay-Z, Wayne’s just so much more casually conversational, his cadence arrestingly all over the place. And by 2007 or so his voice has gotten so raspy (odd since his drug of choice seems to be cough syrup) that his vocal attack is like a rusty jigsaw, creating jaggedy contours where the Jay-Z style is more like a laser scalpel, the lesson being that ultimate precision is unattainable and a bit predictable. At the moment, it makes Kanye’s Late Registration, possibly my decade favorite of any genre, sound like a fairly straightforward pop album.
Which of course brings us to lyrics, a major strength of Late Registration, which is. among other things, an examination of what it means to be reflective, responsible and hip-hop in the 2000s. Lil Wayne’s sense of responsibility obviously isn’t 360 — he discards women at will, he threatens and revels in murderous metaphors like any other gangsta, he still ultimately believes the old NWA line that “life ain’t nothing but bitches and money.”
He does have a code that goes beyond serving him and his, though– he’s talked about dedication to his craft as dedication to his fans, and he’s proved that this goes way beyond money by giving away discsful of music with a lot less hoohah than Radiohead did. The way he starts out Da Drought 3 with a tossed-off “have fun!” seems genuinely generous and humble in its way.
And the 10-minute closer on TC3 hits Al Sharpton where he lives (at a moment when Al’s joined forces with the NYC schools chancellor like he did 20 years ago with Al D’amato, I’m for skewering him anywhich way), while trotting out the same stats on young black men in jail vs. college that Chuck D. and KRS-One aired 20 years ago, but makes them sound fresh, probably because he’s just learning them for the first time, and is genuinely appalled. So maybe at 25 he’s woken up enough times from his syrupy haze to find some things in life other than bitches and money. Or he just figures that everyone should have the chance to get their own. Maybe even women.
Then there’s the reader Q&A he did for Blender this spring, where I was dazzled by his wit and candor — he quit coke because it was messing up his face “and I’m a pretty boy;” he thanks 50 Cent for calling him a whore (“White people know me now”), he responds to challenge to write a verse with Conan O’Brien, koala and dougnuts with: “Like a car, I drive your ho crazy/In circles, like doughnuts/I drive your ho nuts/That’s the truth, you know I ain’t lyin’,/You can ask Conan O’Brien/And I’ve never seen a motherfuckin’ koala/But if I seen one, I’m gon’ holla! “. And his oft repeated, sometimes rapped response to straitjacketed homophobes who wondered why he was seen proudly kissing Cash Money exec/Lil Wayne mentor Bryan “Baby” “Birdman” Williams on the mouth? Goes something like this: “He’s my daddy. You don’t kiss your daddy?”
But, right, while it may be a relief to know he’s trying, or just doing what comes naturally, you don’t go to Lil Wayne for political sensibility — for basic human decency. You go to him because of the way he raps, especially if you happen to be someone who despite his better judgment finds “You like a bitch with no ass/You ain’t got shit” irresistible, and that’s not even to get into the rhymes. And it helps that his sampled hooks have kept up with the evolution of the rest of his craft –on the new album try the kiddie-cooed “La La,” the trad-soul wail of “Let the Beat Build,” the transcendently irritating “A MIlli” or Bobby Valentino’s sung siren evocation on “Mrs. Officer,” which answers his recent arrest record with “all she want me to do is fuck the police.”
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