Tha Carter II
Lil Wayne’s fourth solo album Tha Carter woke the hip-hop world up. They’d long known who he was, but that project forced traditionalists who’d previously dismissed him as the “wobble dee, wobble dee” guy to acknowledge that he’d also somehow become extremely good at rapping. That transformation hadn’t happened overnight. The people most in shock had missed the woodshedding Wayne had done over the course of seven Sqad Up mixtapes and his Da Drought 1 and 2 and Prefix releases. But even as Tha Carter pushed him to a new level of acclaim, the album was unable to crown him rap’s ruler, a title he was sure he’d by then already earned. So he did it himself on Tha Carter II with “Best Rapper Alive.” Even as a statement record, “Best Rapper Alive” is difficult to write off as simple posturing. Wayne raps with a fire in his belly across the whole of Tha Carter II, packing every couplet with an otherworldly combination of trippy non sequitur and warlord-stern conviction, a formula that would make him the most in-demand feature MC of the era. “Ain’t nobody fucking with me, man: He-Man/Ski mask, spending next week’s cash, he fast/And I don’t even need a G-pass, I’m past that/I’m passing them out now, and you can’t have that,” he spews on “Fireman.” Sonically, he dabbles in a multitude of soundscapes, interpolating dancehall culture for “Mo Fire,” attacking sluggish West Coast bounce with guesting MC Kurupt on “Lock and Load,” and anchoring down in the pocket of producer (and guest vocalist) Robin Thicke’s bluesy guitar strums on “Shooter.” These sounds are a world away from Tha Carter, where onetime Cash Money golden goose Mannie Fresh handles the lion’s share of production. Ever the ladies’ man, Wayne puts his mack down on records like “Grown Man” and “Receipt,” but when he lays bare the pressures of being his family’s drug-dealing breadwinner on “Hustler Musik,” it feels like more than just game. You can tell Wayne believes every word he says.