When will a day go by that I don’t listen to an hour of Lil Wayne?

26Jun08

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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3 Responses to “When will a day go by that I don’t listen to an hour of Lil Wayne?”

  1. 1 Kenny

    After listening to Tha Carter III for the first time and enjoying it far more than expected, I have just downloaded (some version of) Da Drought 3. Probably will take weeks before I make an extended comments.

  2. 2 Kenny

    First of all, some nonsense from Blender:

    “When we talk about great rappers, we talk about where they’re from. Biggie is unthinkable without Bed-Stuy. Ask your mom where Tupac laid his head, and chances are good she’ll throw a Westside hand sign. But for Lil Wayne, home doesn’t really exist. He grew up in New Orleans, but that was before Katrina flushed away his schools, his friends and his stomping grounds. Now he splits his time between Miami, Atlanta, his tour bus and—in a claim that only becomes more plausible the more music he releases—Mars. In a genre dominated by area-code-chanting provincialists, he’s a refugee, a nomad, a resident space alien. This is the secret to Wayne’s 21st-century success, the way he went from funny-voiced Dirty South novelty to the virtuoso Jay-Z had anointed “my heir.” Even as he lamented the destruction of his hometown, his style became unfettered. His taste in beats and sounds is omnivorous, his crushed-charcoal rasp equally indebted to crisp East Coast complexity, Southern singsong and his own warped imagination. ”

    What is really weird about the current vogue for the indeed very talented Wayne is that no one seems to have noticed exactly where Wayne is from: childstarland (subcategory: emergence from). I’ve read Christgau, you, Blender, and several other sources, and listened to Da Drought 2 and The Carter III, though not as well as I still need to. And the most obvious thing to me is that we know the points of comparison, and they have nothing to do with Jay Z or Biggie, let alone the actually best rappers around this decade, Kanye and his homie Lupe Fiasco. The points of comparison are Off the Wall and Thriller, Talking Book and Innervisions.

    By these standards Stevie wins hands down and Michael and Wayne are a draw. But even I will admit that Stevie’s advantage was history, because there was a world out there needing a Martin Luther King holiday, and now that Stevie believes that he is the reason for Barack Obama (he more or less said that from the stage — first thing, before he even started playing), and hell, maybe even I believe he is the reason for Barack Obama, now that I think about it, I can also watch him suck up the joint the way Michael and no doubt the future big Wayne will have sucked up their lives. Sure Tha Carter comes from another planet, and by the way Thriller and Tha Carter both come from the same other planet: people who imagine their role in history in a totally solipsistic manner, so that their overwhelming talents are strictly self-referential and formalist. Who can deny they play the game well? Why would anyone claim their game is of greater aesthetic significance then winning at poker, which by the way I spend a fair amount of time trying to do these days (in fact I generally break even), so I hope you understand the full nuance with which I make such a claim. I can no more imagine being obsessed with Lil Wayne then I can moving to Vegas to play full time. He’s a fine way of passing time, but there are finer, and no matter how good I get at listening to him, I’ll never make one penny doing it.

  3. 3 Schweitzito

    Aesthetic significance? Whazzat? If you can make up rhymes and jokes like Wayne with a beat while breaking even, I’ll watch you play poker. If in fact it’s more like those stultification they show on ESPN2, I’ll leave you to your game and hope you have a good time. Many games are fun to play, but many fewer have any spectator appeal.


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