I have to issue a full caveat: Hip-Hop is not really my bag. I’ve never sat down and listened to Lil Wayne until recently. My tastes tend to run to various factions of post-punk to geeky horror movie synth scores, with strong helpings of kraut and prog rock thrown in to stretch things out. Not to say I don’t listen to hip hop; I grew up wearing My Adidas, and as a healthy middle school boy Me was most definitely So Horny. The Beastie Boys brought the punk edge, Public Enemy taught me to do the right thing, and N.W.A and Ice-T told me to fuck, fuck, fuck the police of Los Angeles. By the mid-90’s, I was fully smashing my head on the punk rock, and I tuned out all the East Coast/West Coast bullshit that was flying around in the hip-hop scene at the time. With the exception of the Wu-Tang Clan (Gza’s Liquid Swords is my favorite rap album, and I consider it a masterpiece) and Cannibal Ox, I really didn’t bother with much. By the dawn of the millenium, I was racing down electro-krautrock streets paved by Trans Am and Six Finger Satellite.
In the 2000’s, shit got silly. Or, to the point, the internet was recovering from the dot-com burst, Napster was transforming the record-industry/consumer relationship and beat-making software became both cheap and accessible. Soon, the internet and mainstream radio were saturated by new MCs from all corners of the country, and the entire East Coast/West Coast feud dribbled down to “Biggie/Tupac is still alive” supermarket tabloid fodder. Mixtapes became essential to snagging a record contract, and no hip-hop genre succeeded at this better than the denizens of The Dirty South. I remember hearing marble-mouthed Mike Jones for the first time in a nightclub in the summer of 2005, and I thought the DJ playing the track accidentally hit the 33RPM button. This was my introduction to The Dirty South genre. My next introduction was an article in Fader Magazine on Lil Wayne. There he was, sinewy, tattooed and dreadlocked, holding a Hawaiian Fruit Punch cup the size of a bazooka and looking blaaaaazed to the gills.
Lil Wayne hails from New Orleans, Louisiana, and by the age of nine he was signed to the independent label Cash Money Records. Fame and recognition arrived in 2004 after the release of his fourth album, The Carter, an album that kicked off an entire saga of Carter records. Collaborations with a multitude of artists followed, as well as all the trappings of fame - beefs, controversies, and premature declarations of retirement. This is the man with “misunderstood” tattooed on his face, after all.
I invited a friend over to hang out and help me with the enigma of Lil Wayne. He’s well-versed in his material, while I’ve only really heard him in passing, or heard snatches of him on the car stereo. My friend, we’ll call him Pookie, because we actually do call him Pookie, sat down with me and a 12 pack of beer while we cranked up the Spotify.
Pookie: So, what’s this for?
Casey: Network Awesome. It’s Hip-Hop week.
P: Cool cool. Pass me a beer and lets get down to it.
"GO DJ" from The Carter
C: “Go DJ, cuz that’s my DJ”. Somewhere DJ Jazzy Jeff is smiling. I love rap songs where they spotlight the DJ. I miss Terminator X.
P: This track is about Mannie Fresh. He was LIl Wayne’s guy for a long time. He was Cash Money Records’ house DJ.
C: I’m not really into the music. It’s got that Fast and Furious vibe to it, like there’s a bunch of cars in the background surrounded by fire while girls sit on the hood. Who started that sound?
P: Timbaland. Blame him.
"Cash Money Millionaires" from The Carter
C: Ok, this is pretty dope. That synth line is straight from Fabio Frizzi. It also has that chopped and screwed thing going on with his vocals during the chorus.I always thought that sounded cool.
P: That’s because they’re all passing around codeine dipped blunts in the studio. After smoking a few of those, time slows down and gets deep. That and the Sizzurp. You know what that is, right?
C: I’m well aware. I drank Robitussin all the time in high school. We called it Robotripping, and when we went to the store to buy some we called it Robocopping.
P: I’m sure you did, nerd.
"Lollipop" from The Carter III
C: Damn, I remember this song. This was song was HUGE! 2008 really was the year of Autotune, wasn’t it? I was actually a pretty big fan of Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It (On the Alcohol)” from the same year, remember that? Still my favorite use of Autotune.
P: You would, that song was awful. This was a pretty big song for Lil Wayne. Like, going straight to number one on Billboard big. The guy guesting on this track, Static Major, died right before this came out. Weezy (Lil Wayne’s nickname) was pretty fucked up by that.
C: Did he just say “Derp Derp”?
P It’s “Burp Burp”.
C: Somehow that doesn’t make it better. I DJed a dance at a junior high in 2008, and all the 11 and 12 year old kids wanted to hear this. One of the most uncomfortable moments of my life.
P: Did you play it?
C: Yeah, but heavily edited. The radio version.
P: They get freaky on the dance floor?
C: I turned the other way, junior high kids are supposed to be awkward. These kids watched too much MTV and looked pro. Next song, please.
"President Carter" from The Carter IV
C: Nice Jimmy Carter sample in the beginning. That would be hilarious if this track was actually about Jimmy Carter. “From the South/I eat peanuts/President Ronald Reagan/can eat deez nuts”
P: (he made some type of groaning noise)
C: Anyways, this track isn’t that bad. I like the melancholy piano, this could be a Ghostface Killah track almost. What I’m not into after listening to these tracks is his voice and cadence. It’s just kind of blah.
P: It’s not everybody’s taste, it’s a strange combination of laid-backness with very little frills.
C: It’s not just that, it’s his lyrics too. I don’t find them particularly special. I’m not the biggest fan of Kanye West, but as far as mainstream hip-hop goes, he’s got some innovation going on.
P: Only because Kanye has an entourage of heat-seekers working for him, combing through hipster bars in Brooklyn looking for what the kids are talking about.
C: Get out of town!
P: Think about it.
C: I will some other time, Kanye is a whole other story.
After throwing me a few fun facts - Weezy is apparently really into bowling, with loads of custom made bowling balls made special for his curving throwing style, he’s been beefing with Pusha T off and on for years, he’s routinely called out for acting gangster and derided for once accidentally shooting himself (after the era of 50 Cent, gunshot wound bragging will never be the same) and apparently, if you look up “Lil Wayne kissing guys” on the internet, you’ll be bombarded with pictures of just that, with various kooky conspiracy theories calling him out on his sexuality. I’ve come to terms that I’m just not into Lil Wayne. I find his music similar to his ubiquitous grill - shiney and clean, but there’s just nothing there.