At the beginning of the new century,
the master of diction and free-form rapping was New Orleans'
Lil Wayne (Dwayne Carter),
a former member of the Hot Boys, a quartet that released the
Get It How U Live (1997) and Guerrilla Warfare (1999) produced
by one of the great hip-hop magicians of the time, Mannie Fresh (Byron Thomas).
Lil Wayne was already famous when he
debuted solo with Tha Block Is Hot (1999),
Lights Out (2000) and
500 Degreez (2002),
posturing like the typical southern gangsta-rapper but mostly relying on the beats of Mannie Fresh.
Meanwhile, Lil Wayne had started the series of "Sqad Up" mixtapes that culminated with SQ7 (2003), containing the epic 35-minute rap 10000 Bars
that disposed of written lyrics and turned towards an improvised stream of consciousness.
Lil Wayne reinvented himself as an eloquent and grandiose rapper on Tha Carter (2004), a 21-song monolith, again produced by Mannie Fresh who is the real brain behind
Go DJ (Lil Wayne's signature song of that era), This is the Carter, BM Jr and Cash Money Millionaires; and on the more commercial follow-ups:
on the 22-song Tha Carter II (2005), containing
Hustler Musik (produced by Tristan "T-Mix" Jones),
that feels like a nostalgic tribute to funk-soul of the 1970s,
Best Rapper Alive (produced by Derrick "Bigg D" Baker),
Tha Mobb (produced by the Heatmakerz, the duo of Rsonist Gregory "Rsonist" Green and Sean "Thrilla" Thomas),
Fireman (produced by Doe Boyz, the duo of Bigram "DVLP" Zayas and Matthew "Filthy" Delgiorno), the single that popularized his free-association lyrics,
and even the languid Shooter (a collaboration with blue-eyed soul singer-songwriter Robin Thicke);
and on the just a little shorter Tha Carter III (2008), a chart-topping
album that contains the duet Mr Carter with Jay-Z,
the poppy A Milli (with the feverish beat largely created with a voice fragment),
3 Peat, one of his most visceral raps (over an eerie organ-driven soundscape created by Vaushaun "Maestro" Brooks),
Lollipop (the song that popularized the autotune device)
and Got Money (not far from neosoul and synth-pop).
This trilogy consisted essentially in a clever project of self-mythologizing,
when in reality these overlong
albums were full of repetitive songs that simply bragged
about his gangsta persona, his life sex, his money and, last but unfortunately
not least, his rapping. Apparently, millions of kids were seduced by his
egocentric lyrics and he was by then the hottest rapper in the country.
Real genius of rapping was more likely to appear on mixtapes such as
the 25-song Dedication II (2006), carefully assembled and "directed"
by Tyree "DJ Drama" Simmons using other people's beats,
the real follow-up to SQ7 and
Wayne's best demonstration of his free-association rhymes
(from the ferocious Get Em to the delirious Cannon),
and such as
the 29-song 108-minute Da Drought 3 (2007), although it occasionally
sounded like stand-up comedy. These two mixtapes refined
the art of verbally remixing other people's beats to an extent rarely
reached before. The best number is perhaps Ride 4 My Niggas/
Sky's The Limit
on Da Drought 3 (2007), where Lil Wayne steals the beat from
Mike Jones' Mr Jones and creates a completely different song.
On the same mixtape he hijacks
DJ Khaled's We Takin' Over and
Beyonce's Upgrade U
and turns Jay-Z's Show Me What You Got into
Dough Is What I Got.
And, to be fair, with songs such as
Tie My Hands, off Tha Carter II, and
Georgia Bush, off Dedication II,
Lil Wayne became the voice of a wounded New Orleans after
the "Katrina" flooding of 2004 that killed scores of people and after the
mismanagement by the politicians.
But the "Tha Carter" trilogy actually marked his artistic peak.
No Ceilings (2009) was the last meaningful mixtape, with
Swag Surf and Run This Town.
The albums that came later had little substance and his rapping
deteriorated instead of improving:
his "rock" album Rebirth (2010),
I Am Not a Human Being (2010),
Tha Carter IV (2011),
I Am Not a Human Being II (2013),
Free Weezy Album (2015),
Tha Carter V (2018),
Coincidence or not, the creative decline started when his pupil
Drake became a star, which was also
approximately the time when Lil Wayne was sent to prison for a few months
(although his entourage managed to turn that jail sentence into a marketing scoop).
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