Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Am I Seriously The Only Person Who Thinks Lil Wayne Is Horribly Overrated?

Lil Wayne is on top of the hip hop world right now. His street cred is through the roof thanks to his appearances on several high profile mixtapes, the critics love him, and his new album Tha Carter III just became the first album in three years to sell over one million copies in its first week. In the post-CD era, you've got to admit that's a mighty impressive feat. So, why can't I understand what all the damn fuss is about?

Let me start this off by making it clear that I'm not one of those people who hates on music just because it is popular. There was a time when I was one of those people, but I outgrew such petty behavior years ago. If something is good, then just admit it and who gives a shit if it is popular? What I don't have patience for is when people who listen to very little hip hop have the gall to tell the rest of us that someone is "the greatest rapper alive" (a title that Mr. Wayne gave himself, but others, like those at Pitchfork, have agreed with) when they are obviously unqualified to make such pronouncements.

Now, I can't tell you who the "greatest rapper alive" is, but I am smart enough not to make such a subjective statement because I don't feel like I am up on the hip hop game enough to have a good answer. What I do know is that most of the people who are on the Lil-Wayne-is-King bandwagon listen to even less hip hop than I do. But you don't always have to be an uber hip hop head to recognize that you're listening to some next level shit, so I decided to give Tha Carter III a proper listen before passing judgment.

I gotta say, after listening to this album a few times I still don't get it. How is it that people are fawning over this guy? I know Lil Wayne is known for his stream-of-consciousness style of stringing together non-sequiturs and nonsensical metaphors, but throughout most of this record he sounds as if he is making up the rhymes as he goes along. Now, Jay-Z and Biggie are famous for not writing down their lyrics, but you know they have most of that stuff laid out in their head before they grabbed the mic (presumably, Wayne does too), yet it sounds like Wayne doesn't even bother with that much planning before the words flow from his mouth. On the album's opener "3 Peat" both the beat (straight out of the gangster 101 starter kit) and the rhymes sound just plain lazy. I think I counted 10 different instances where he manages to rhyme consecutive lines with the same word.

On "Got Money", we hear him using a paint-by-numbers approach that blatantly apes everything you hear on Hot 97 and 106 & Park. This is what the most 'prolific' MC in hip hop is supposed to sound like? Even being paired with Jay-Z doesn't manage to bring out the best in either artist, with Hova sounding as if he phoned in his verses (a problem that has plagued him on his more recent output) just so he can latch on to Wayne's shooting star. Then there's the Kanye-produced "Let the Beat Build" where Wayne manages to fumble away the perfect beat for his rambling style. More than any other track, this one begs for him to lift his self-imposed ban on editing his own material.

Now, they aren't all stinkers. "Dr. Carter" makes good use of a David Axelrod sample (even if he's six years late to pick up on the trend) to compliment his delayed delivery. Another highlight is "Nothin' On Me", where he teams up with his buddy Juelz Santana and Fabolous to create a subwoofer-friendly gangster anthem. In each of these cases it sounds as if more careful planning went into crafting both the lyrics and the beats, which I wish was more prevalent throughout the rest of the record.

Perhaps that's my biggest issue with Lil Wayne. So many people love him for his take-it-or-leave-it first draft approach to rapping, while I always end up thinking that his music could stand to benefit from a little (or, in many cases) refinement. Hip hop is way too hard of a game to get everything right the first time and if you are going to attempt to pull something like that off then you better be a once in a generation talent. Unfortunately, Lil Wayne isn't nearly that good to it consistently.

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