Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Top 20 of 2008: #8

8. Lil' Wayne - Tha Carter III

My mom was really into the George Michael album Faith when it came out. And when one of my parents was really into an album in those days, it meant that it was all we listened to for a few months. It happened with many notable albums, Genesis' Invisible Touch and Paul Simon's Rhythm of the Saints among them. I remember asking Mom why she liked George Michael so much, and she said, "He uses his voice as an instrument." I thought that was a cool sentiment, and it's stuck with me over the years.

Hearing Tha Carter III brought that phrase back to my mind from its first song "3 Peat." Forget what Lil' Wayne is saying and just pay attention to how evocative his voice is. A lot of people have criticized him for using an autotuner too much on this record, but I don't get that. I mean, I get the criticism in general, but not here. Unlike on Kanye's 808's and Heartbreak, which has wall-to-wall autotuner to cover up the fact that Mr. West can't sing worth a damn, the autotuner on Tha Carter III is used like a paintbrush by Lil' Wayne. He colors his songs with his own mangled voice to amplify his persona as a total freak. If the songs were mediocre it wouldn't work. But these songs are anything but mediocre.

There's not a better wordsmith working today. Incredible couplets like "Swallow my words, taste my thoughts / And if it's too nasty, spit it back at me" flow out of him easy as breathing. Granted, not every song here is great, but the ones that are are better than any other rap out there right now. He's got amazing cadence as well, jagged and hurried and completely unique. In a time when so much rap sounds processed and drained of life, you can feel Lil' Wayne in every word here.

The kicker is that he's also the savviest businessman since Jay-Z. He whipped people into a frenzy of anticipation for Tha Carter III by giving music away. Are you listening Sony? Warner? Got it? This is the way to sell millions and millions of records now. Mixtape after mixtape came out where he played with the musical themes that would eventually make up the album. And he gave them away. Tha Carter III is a fantastic, smart album that might just be the blueprint for the new blockbuster.


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