By 2008, the world of hip-hop had taken on a mainstage role in popular music, and it retains its dominant force to this day. The best-selling album of 2008 was “Tha Carter III”, the latest in a series of self-titled albums from Lil Wayne, aka Wayne Carter, a highly successful rapper from New Orleans. In addition to its commercial success, “The Carter III” is album #208 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Although my son appeared to be surprised by this outcome, I really enjoyed this album a lot. I don’t find Lil Wayne to be near the top of my favorite MCs list, and there is something mildly cartoonish about him as he reminds me of what would happen if Snoop Doog was freeze-dried, shrunk-wrapped and given a grill. That absurdity aside, this album is full of great beats, and is overflowing with powerful collaborations in songwriting, performance and production. Among the superstars who are in the mix here are Jay-Z, Kanye West, T-Pain, Babyface, Busta Rhymes, and even Robin Thicke, and the overall allure of this record lines up with this collection.
Without any real familiarity, it turns out that the songs I gravitated to the most were the big hits from this album. My top pick is “Mr. Carter”, which is a play on the shared last name of Lil Wayne and Jay-Z, and I absolutely love the hook of this song. My next favorite is probably “Lollipop”, which was a huge hit and obviously a club showcase that lives on to this day. It also sounds the most like what I associate with Lil Wayne, heavy on autotune as a vocal production technique. “A Milli” has this hypnotic and recurring backing track but it really works, and I enjoyed this song, like many others, from the first time around. “Mrs. Officer” is a subdued and really funky groove, featuring Bobby V. and Kidd Kidd. It is as much R&B as it is hip-hop, but it is a great tune. As pointed out by my son, the Kanye influence is strong on the song “Let The Beat Build”, and it is another highly infectious hook.
The last song, “DontGetIt” prominently features a sample of Nina Simone and her 1964 song “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”. It is an interesting objection to excessive black imprisonment, primarily for drug transactions, and it also takes several shots at Reverend Al Sharpton. I raised the potential conflict of interest in a musical culture that frequently glorifies crime and violence, but considering that isn’t really Lil Wayne’s message, I will leave that debate and discussion for another time. It is dramatic and powerful ending to a diversified and distinctive album that I find fully worthy of its success and critical appraisal.