“The Carter” doesn’t try to argue that Lil Wayne, born Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr., is, as he himself has claimed, the “best rapper alive.” “Best” and “alive” aren’t always long-lasting qualities in the world of hip-hop anyway. Instead of making the case for Wayne the artist, Adam Bhala Lough’s documentary focuses on capturing the incredibly, frighteningly of-the-moment ocean of celebrity through which he wades, a diminutive 25-year-old from New Orleans with a multi-platinum album and, for now, all the talent and swagger in the world, as well as one of its more distinctive drug habits. “The Carter” follows Lil Wayne unblinkingly on tour, as he bounces from Amsterdam to Atlanta and back again, apparently unmoored and eternally on the road, recording in hotel rooms and buses with the equipment that’s always with him, high all the time on weed, on codeine cough syrup cut with soda. That’s why Wayne’s manager and friend refuses to ride of the bus with him — he can’t stand to see Wayne as groggily fucked-up as he occasionally gets during the film.
But Wayne’s not the careening most-likely-to-become-the-next-music-biz-casualty he could be. For one, it’s the music he really cares most about, recording like a man possessed, over a thousand songs, he estimates, telling a reporter he doesn’t have time for sex, just music and money — and if you don’t quite take him at his word, you do take his point. And for another, Wayne’s knows that half of the people gawking at him would gawk the same way at his tattooed, codeine-soaked corpse. “The Carter”‘s biggest hat-tip to DA Pennebaker’s “Dont Look Back” is its love of footage of Wayne sparring with interviewers at every stop on the road, sullen in some, playing up the persona in others and tossing the guy who would musicologically force “Tha Carter III” into some New Orleans tradition out on his ass with no further explanation. They tend to sound ghoulish, the journalists — circling his outlandish lifestyle, asking about the “famous syrup,” about whether he’s thought about how he’s going to die, asking about the time he accidentally shot himself — and Wayne’s aware that his fame can be commodified without him being around to benefit from it. He doesn’t write his lyrics down, he says, because he doesn’t want the papers auctioned off a la Kurt Cobain. And whether or not you think that he’ll retain that type of fame in ten or 15 years — I’m pretty ambivalent, myself — Wayne’s certainly enjoying what he has now, never better exemplified than in the stunner of an opening shot of him preening in the spotlight, eyes upraised, or in the moments when he turns to the camera and doesn’t-quite-lip-sync along to his own tracks, his life as close to a music video as you can get. As fast as adoring fans can turn into devouring crowds, or worse, indifferent masses, it looks pretty good to be Lil Wayne right then.
[Photo: “The Carter,” QD3 Entertainment, 2009]