Last night, I walked into a record store and bought Lil Wayne’s new album, Tha Carter III. It felt a little surreal. Wayne’s fans have been thinking about this day through so many endless months of postponed release dates, mixtape teases, scene-stealing guest appearances, and leaks of varying quality; I sometimes think the only entity more absurdly, entertainingly prolix than Weezy himself is the blogosphere hivemind when it talks about Weezy. I’m certainly guilty of over-parsing the guy’s pre-release tea leaves myself, having swung in the past 12 months between dizzy worship, grudging admission that not everything he touches is gold, and sheer bewilderment at the whole phenomenon. So what are we supposed to say once the thing we were gabbing about all that time is finally here?
Well, for one thing, Tha Carter III seems to be selling a lot of CDs. Some people are saying it’s on track to maybe crack the fabled million-sold mark by the end of its first week, and they’re not even kidding. (The CD was in such high demand before it came out yesterday that some unscrupulous retailers even quietly sold a few copies as soon as they came in stock, enough to land Tha Carter III at No. 171 on the Billboard charts today — the week before it’s even supposed to show up on the chart at all.) So while I know I’ll be mulling this music over for a long time to come, for now I’m content to know that Wayne’s proved hip-hop’s naysayers wrong yet again. Not only is rap a vibrant, expansive artform, it can still be a monster of a commercial force in the right hands. Even to a guy like me, who doesn’t really care about the labels’ profit margins at the end of the day, that’s a profoundly satisfying result.
And the contents of that little jewel box that everyone’s been rushing out to purchase? Yeah, they’re both exhilarating and maddening, in precisely the way Wayne always is. As many others have noted, he’s basically extended his stream-of-consciousness mixtape mode into the major-label event album format. That makes for a wildly scattershot listen, with plenty of unnecessary clunkers to go along with the surfeit of clever couplets and off-the-wall song concepts. I’m pretty sure Tha Carter III is not as good as that playlist you (oughta) have in your iTunes with the best bits from The Drought is Over 2 and Da Drought 3 and Dedication 2. Nor is it even close to the thought-out lyrical masterpiece that I still believe Wayne is capable of making if he ever sits still long enough. But it’s certainly way better than most rap albums in the past year. Anyway, dude told us he’s an alien (“like Gonzalez“!), and I guess super-advanced extraterrestrials don’t have to make any sense at all to us earthlings. So let somebody else do “perfect.” This is Wayne, for better or for worse, following his own voice out to all kinds of places.
Or maybe this just means Weezy has thrown my brain into a self-consuming tailspin, again. Who knows. Any fellow obsessives out there want to help me figure out which way is up?