With 2018 marking Lil Wayne as the comeback king, we revisit the album that solidified him as one of the GOAT’s.
In 2006, Nas made a bold proclamation with his album Hip-Hop Is Dead. Throughout the project, he harshly criticized the uprise of styles like crunk, snap and trap, and tried to foreshadow a future where the power in the artists didn’t exist. It seemed like he was right initially, because aside from rare acts like Clipse and Kanye West, it seemed like the name of the game was to merely chase hits. You would conform to the trends of the current time, or slowly fizzle into irrelevance if you failed to hail the dictator that is record sales. However, all of this changed when just over 10 years ago Lil Wayne dropped The Carter 3.
The Carter 3 was Lil Wayne’s magnum opus, and a culmination of all the work he had put into the game at that point. It defied the doubts that Lil Wayne would ever get any bigger than he was. See, before The Carter 3 dropped, Lil Wayne already had 5 successful solo albums, a collaboration album with Birdman and 3 albums with his former group The Hot Boyz. He had already seen success that most rappers never see, and this paired with the series of leaks that long delayed the project, naysayers were ready to see Wayne fall from the forefront of the mainstream. However, with outlandish, anthemic singles and pure, embrident wordplay, The Carter 3 has lived on as one of Wayne’s best albums, and foreshadowed the influence he has had on hip-hop culture.
The Carter 3 contained some of Lil Wayne’s most off-kilter, ambitious music yet. The album’s biggest hit “Lollipop” was an autotune-drenched pop song laced in the nocturnal, spacious synths of R&B. It was clear that Wayne couldn’t sing very well, yet it was undeniably catchy. His vocals landed somewhere between T-Pain’s harmonies and Ja Rule’s melodic grunts, a comparison you can make to a lot of hip-hop artists today. Wayne’s oddball approach to the pop-rap single defied the trends of your typical crossover cuts like “Ayo Technology” by 50 Cent, and warped the styles of southern-tinged rap music; showing Nas that the trajectory was still truly in the power of the muse.
Wayne’s reinvention of the pop-rap crossover on The Carter 3 not only defied the odds that most rapper’s crumble in, but also paved the way for rappers to explore the boundless territories of hip-hop in the future. Within the year of the album’s release, Wayne’s auto-croon obsession was followed by Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreaks and Kid Cudi’s Man On The Moon, both in which are albums that flourished in the barriers Weezy broke. His implementation of auto-tune proved to be more than a tool for tone correction, but a vocal enhancer that saw Wayne thrive in this grimy, extraterrestrial aesthetic he had created. This made Kanye’s robotic ballads and Kid Cudi’s grungy moans acceptable in hip-hop, which then trickled down into artists like Future, Young Thug and later Trippie Redd. In this current wave of auto-tuned rap music, Wayne made the first splash.
While Lil Wayne took what Nas thought was wrong with hip-hop and made it revolutionary, he also revitalized the braggadocious excitement of rap’s core; rhymes. The Carter 3 was full of the wordplay that usually comes with the alpha-machismo antics of hip-hop, but with similes and metaphors that set Weezy apart from his contemporaries. Lines like “But I’mma leave it to God, not Beaver, neither you/ Cause I’mma murder Y, kill O and even U” on songs like “Mr Carter” were good to the point that not even a Jay-Z feature could outshine Weezy, and this was a trend throughout the project as Wayne rapped beside Jadakiss, Juelz Santana and more. This was rare at the time as Jay-Z constantly lived in the shadows of his past subjects, Kanye was more focused on grandeur than competition, 50 Cent started to fizzle out and snap artists like Soulja Boy and Hurricane Chris carried snap music into the mainstream. While Wayne may of utilized the trends that made Nas nihilistic, his natural hunger for bars made the fundamental of hip-hop important to the masses again, and inspired artists like Kendrick Lamar who continue to carry them today.
At the end of the day however, there’s one overarching theme that makes The Carter 3 such a modern day classic, and that is that it showed that you can be whoever the hell you want in the world of hip-hop. In a climate where rap music is seemingly diluted in debate on what’s ‘authentic’, it’s important to look at albums like The Carter 3 and understand that everything is in bounds, and everything is exciting. When Wayne wanted to sing, he sung, when Wayne wanted to rap, he rapped. Wayne defied the restrictions that once existed in rap so that he could make a rock album, Kid Cudi could make a grunge album, Kanye could make a project of ballads and Young Thug could make country rap. Sure, when looking back at the last decade, Wayne’s sonic and lyrical influence throughout everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Chief Keef is prominent. But the two things Wayne proved that’ll stand the test of time are that being yourself is more hip-hop than spitting a 16, and most importantly, that Nas was wrong.