Thursday, June 12, 2008
The greatest alive?
I had a hazy idea of who Lil Wayne was before the beginning of the school year. I'd heard from a few that he was "hot" if not "the hottest rapper in the game," but only from people whose opinions I didn't take too seriously (I wasn't quite up on the blogosphere just yet). I unfairly labeled him as another Southern one-trick crunk pony, without actually bothering to listen to any of his material.
Surprisingly, it was at Swarthmore that I began to see first-hand the amount of hype and importance that has been attached to Lil Wayne. I remember one time I was doing statistics with my friend Ray in the library, both listening to our iPods, and him suddenly telling me,"Berto, I can't feel my face!" "Wait, what, Ray?" "I said I can't feel my FACE!" "Um." With increasing frequency, both kids who could and couldn't really give a damn about hip-hop beyond The Hood Internet or whatever mashup group started trying to convince me of the genius of Lil Wayne. Unique voice, humour, crazy flows, what was there not to like?
Still, I slept, dismissing most of his supporters as those who'd enjoy only rap ironically. Outside of occasionally listening to him in a friend's room or being told that she wants to lick him like a lollipop at EVERY campus gathering from March onward, I didn't make time to listen to him. Too much other classic material to get through, I told myself.
Between taking the train to and from work and sitting idly at my work desk for entire days on end, I've actually had plenty of free time to myself now, most of which was spent reading other people's reactions to Tha Carter III. While I'd already arranged a list of albums to get through for the week, my curiosity finally got the best of me today and I listened to Tha Carter III (I love typing out this album title!).
Now, if this were a review of Tha Carter III, I wouldn't have wasted your time with this ridiculously long introduction. No, I feel some have already critiqued the album down insightfully enough (if not getting a little too hyped about doing so).
What I find truly interesting is the diversity of opinion you find on the album and Lil Wayne in general; the critical media (Pitchfork especially) mostly love him, while the bloggers I read think he's above average to awfully overrated. My basic thoughts are that Tha Carter III, while not a bad album bad any means, is nowhere near the classic that Wayne was aiming for. I was both pleasantly surprised and disappointed by this album; I finally recognized Wayne's flow and word-bending talents, but I wish he could've just focused a bit more on using those talents to make the album more cohesive.
A friend of mine recently told me he feels people shit on Lil Wayne just because he likes to have fun. After reading so many different takes on him, though, I think the divide between his fans and his ardent critics are more fundamental than a lack of humour on the part of hardcore rap nerds (I have seen Redman on too many Top 10 lists to count). Not so implicit in all of these discussions are differing notions how great hip-hop should be defined in the year 2008.
In the comment section of one of the blogs I linked to, Doctor Zeus suggested that Lil Wayne study GZA to learn about the art of the extended metaphor. I think that's a perfect example of what a lot of older rap fans expect; to be heralded as "the greatest rapper alive" today, Wayne would have to match or surpass the quality of the work that's come before him. That's a tall order, and a reasonable argument could be made that it's a snobbish one. Why can't Lil Wayne just make great music, why must he be compared to other people? The fact is, however, that Lil Wayne very self-conciously aspires to be mentioned alongside Jay-Z, Biggie, etc., and a lot of media outlets and fans have already embraced the idea. This makes other heads, the ones who've bumped Liquid Swords since '94, defensive. If the hype machine is able to make Lil Wayne into the greatest rapper of the decade despite his technical shortcomings, it almost feels like there's been a breach of continuity in hip-hop's story.
Of course, it is only natural that as a form of popular music, hip-hop can be consumed and critiqued by anybody from an ahistorical context, so I don't personally sweat all of the acclaim too much. In fact, I'll probably be bumping "Dr. Carter" for a good while, I think it shows what Weezy F. Baby can do when he actually sticks to a concept. And even if future pop-rappers lacking Wayne's talent take his free-associative rhyming-without-writing approach too far, at least I'll always have Operation:Doomsday (I have fallen in love with this album, write-up to come soon hopefully).