Let me begin by saying that I like Lil’ Wayne. I’ve met Lil’ Wayne, and, yes, he’s a very friendly guy. He’s got a magnetic personality, and his demeanor alone could sell a few thousand albums. That being said, it still zaps my mind (much like that vein tattoo on Lil’ Wayne’s forehead) that he became music’s most praised star in 2008. And we’re not just talking about Dwayne Carter getting fist pounds from fellow hip-hoppers. He was loved by the pop set, mainstream music lovers, and even–no lie–the indie elite. (A certain Chicago emcee/producer is secretly wiping his brow and readjusting his Pee-Wee Herman suit jacket).
(left: Somehow, someway, Lil’ Wayne conquered the world in 2008.)
To be honest, when Lil’ Wayne’s brand new album, Tha Carter III, was released earlier this year I didn’t pay much attention to it. I gave the album a quick listen, wasn’t blown out of the box, and continued to listen to all the other music I had to listen to. I was actually a bit disappointed, cause I wanted to love Lil’ Wayne’s new album. For someone who’s not into hip-hop as much as I used to be, it’s fun to latch on to a current hip-hop star, cause it makes you feel, well, current.
While I was dismissing Tha Carter III, America was doing just the opposite. In a CD industry on life support, the album sold 400,000 copies in its opening day (which even drew a surprised response from 50 Cent). The disc went on to become one of the top selling albums of 2008 and even landed on several critics’ year-end, best-of lists. SPIN named Lil’ Wayne “Rock Star of the Year” and Pitchfork Media, the bastion of all things indie, named Tha Carter III their #11 album of 2008 (beating out efforts from music blog darlings Lykke Li, Santogold, and even–Kanye West).
Lil’ Wayne was everywhere in 2008. He was nominated for eight Grammy Awards (more than any other artist this year), he got ample face time on MTV’s VMA show (even sharing the stage with Kid Rock), performed live on SNL, was appearing on other aritsts’ tracks in the same fervor as Akon, inspired Michael Phelps to swim to eight gold medal victories (getting name-dropped on a nightly basis at the Olympic Games), and even during my Christmas shopping I couldn’t avoid Lil Wayne, as I was given a free Tha Carter III velvet black-light poster in my Virgin Megastore shopping bag.
In the midst of Lil Wayne madness I decided to revisit Tha Carter III. I gave it a couple more listens, and–still–nothing.
I was blind to its genius.
What was the rest of the world seeing that I couldn’t see? The production didn’t seem out of the ordinary (lots of rolling drum fills, some vocoder, and dirty-south-ready synth loops), the lyrics, many times, dipped into familiar hip-hop territory, with rhymes about getting your dick sucked and getting shot, and Tha Carter III may also be the first album in history to get nominated for Grammy’s Album Of The Year Award, despite possessing a track titled “Pussy Monster.”
I understand why Lil’ Wayne has dominated the world of hip-hop in 2008, but it’s still a mystery how he won over serious music critics. His guitar playing skills are almost insulting (though I do see a smidgen of punk rock in thought process), his 24-year old voice sometimes sounds like an ailing old man, and his biggest hit of the year was one he did with T-Pain (and doing a track with T-Pain is about as original as a tabloid magazine putting Britney Spears on the front cover).
Maybe it’s his tight jeans and tattoos?
Maybe it’s his don’t-give-a-fuck-do-it-yourself attitude?
Maybe I have to listen to the album again?
Maybe I still won’t get it after I do…