In rap, there are no title belts. For all the posturing and all the perpetual debates, there are no trophies to point to, no photos of Ice Cube with his arm around David Stern while confetti rains down on them.
But if O’Shea Jackson can’t hang a banner for the 1990-91 season, he can do the next best thing: lay out tattered vinyl copies of Amerikkka’s Most Wanted and Death Certificate. Most everyone who can lay serious claim to ‘best rapper alive’ status has a singular effort that defines their peaks; Nas has Illmatic, Andre and Big Boi have Aquemini. And then there’s Lil Wayne.
Wayne’s reign at the top wasn’t exactly short like leprechauns, but it doesn’t fit neatly into a Wikipedia entry. At the tail end of 2005, he released Tha Carter II. It was an excellent coke-rap album, but one that would be surpassed not just once, but twice, in 2006—by The Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury and Ghostface’s Fishscale. And if you went into a coma at that point and were rattled awake three years later, you would hear the third Carter installment for what it is: a solid, intermittently brilliant album with sloppy A&R fingerprints all over it. And they don’t give awards for that.
But in between those Universal-sanctioned records, New Orleans’ favorite son ruled the world. From Dedication 2 to Da Drought 3 to the hundreds of loose tracks and show-stopping guest spots, by the end of 2007, Weezy had wrestled the crown squarely onto his dreadlocked head. An unstoppable, schizophrenic machine of a lyricist, his contemporaries could never quite keep up—“Duffle Bag Boyz” was gospel, then came “I Feel Like Dying”; Beatles samples and Mike Jones comeback singles were chewed up and spit out all the same.
Until now, there has never been a definitive Wayne record from this period. The frenzied pace of all those leaks was part of his mystique, sure, but where is the title banner? What hour of music argues for his place in the canon? After weeks of deliberation, we settled on this, the 2dopeboyz edit of Tha Carter III:
1. I’m Me
2. I’m A Beast
4. When You See Me
5. A Milli
6. I Know The Future f. Mack Maine
8. I Feel Like Dying
9. Pussy, Money, Weed
11. What He Does
12. Tie My Hands f. Robin Thicke
13. La, La, La
14. Prostitute Flange
15. Beat Without Bass
16. Let The Beat Build
(The rules were simple: anything that came out after Tha Carter II and before (or on) Tha Carter III was fair game, so long as it was over original production. "Beat Without Bass" was technically a Freekey Zekey song, but it is not, for all intents and purposes, a Freekey Zekey song.)
What’s left is the story of a man immune to everything but his vices. From “I’m Me” through “Scarface”, Wayne is bulletproof. He’s laughing at the feds on “A Milli”; he’s laughing at monogamy on “I’m A Beast”. Rap and everything it brought him—the women and the jewelry and the devil-proof coffins—is a cure-all like none he could have imagined. When he says on Kush, “I got a grill, I don’t have to get my tooth fixed”, it’s more than just a clever boast. He can hardly believe life is this good.
But then come the enemies Wayne conjured out of his own blunt smoke and paranoia. “I Feel Like Dying” (which was, for all intents and purposes, the first based freestyle) is a bad trip in audio form, and perhaps the best illustration of his warning from “Live From The 504”: “And to the kids, drugs kill, I’m acknowledging that/But when I’m on the drugs, I don’t have a problem with that”. When the hedonism from “Pussy, Money, Weed” and the professional pitfalls of “Gossip” finally take their toll, it’s back to basics.
Wayne’s superhuman façade cracks on “What He Does”, revealing something grittier and decidedly more empathetic—insofar as drug dealers inspire empathy. The twin tributes to his city are just as touching: “Tie My Hands” drags the listener through the botched response to Katrina, while “La, La, La” places you squarely in the carefree summers of Wayne’s childhood. These give way to the perplexingly feminist “Prostitute Flange”, and then one of the greatest victory laps in all of rap. This Carter III would not only be the pinnacle of Wayne’s vast catalog, but one of the finest rap releases of the 2000s.
To help explain what makes these records stand out above the rest, we rounded up a team of contributors from across the continent. Jibril Yassin is a writer from Edmonton who was listening to “Blood on the Leaves” when the CBC cuts were announced. Minneapolis-based Jack Spencer is best known as the rap head at City Pages. Also from the Twin Cities is rapper Tony the Scribe, one-half of the duo KILLSTREAK. Max Bell, Tosten Burks, Eric Thurm, and Alex Koenig are all contributors at Passion of the Weiss, the rap internet’s best-kept secret.
Then there are the wild cards: Meaghan Murray is a writer from Boston best known for her sex-centric poetry. Monroe Lawrence is one of Canada’s finest young writers, a poet who works and studies in Vancouver. We have our very own DOOM, a professional from the finance sector identified only as Swizz. Finally, there’s Alex Kilpatrick. Originally Claire Danes’ stunt double on Homeland, Kilpatrick was killed in 2007.
So put these songs in a playlist. Ride around with the windows down and a model dangling her shoes over the passenger door. If we’re wrong, let us know—but we aren’t. – Paul Thompson