The past few weeks I have chosen to live and explore the album of “The Carter 3” by Lil Wayne. I chose this album not because it is his best (personally enjoy the Carter 2 most) but because it is his album which received the most attention, so I want to look a little deeper into the album’s origins and importance in hip-hop. Overall the purpose of this album is an attempt by Lil Wayne to show that he has risen to the top in today’s conversation of best rappers. This album came out right after a string of great Lil Wayne mix-tapes that lasted about 2 years.
There really is no debate on the commercial success of this album, with this being the most successful rap album in terms of sales since 2008. However I will attempt to answer whether this was just a very successful mainstream rap album or whether there is some meaning behind it. I will explore the album and then give a track by track breakdown on the most meaningful records. Lil Wayne grew up in Hollygrove, New Orleans a very poor neighborhood. He represents his home city as much as anyone else if not more, it is very important to him and references can be found in most of his material.
In “The Carter” documentary Wayne refers to Hollygrove as “what you may call a home/village, it’s my everything but you don’t want to go there”. He has always represented the South featuring with many other quality southern rappers like T. I. , Outkast, Young Jeezy and many more. However oddly his rapping style at times can seem very east coast with the rhyming and metaphors. His hometown is definitely present on the album, both New Orleans and Hollygrove are mentioned on the introduction track, where he grew up.
Perhaps his most emotional song on the album, “Tie My Hands” is entirely about the downfall of his city. On the album he talks about wanting to make it out of the slums, this ghetto neighborhood but at the same time he has always been one of the few to represent New Orleans, and shows pride in doing so. The artwork on this album contains a picture of himself as a baby, similar to “Illmatic” and “Ready to Die”. It seems Wayne chose to copy this cover art style simply because he sees it as one his career defining albums. The best word to describe the beats on this album would be soulful.
There are a few beats that are pop, a few quick paced but the rest are mainly soul, a nice change of pace from all the hard beats. I think that these type of beats were chosen because Wayne wanted his lyrics to feel sincere, truthful and clear. The beat selection had to do with both the artist and producer, for example there were 2 Kanye beats that were his typical “soulful” style. However when Wayne wanted to rap fast he had quick tempo beats. He had some very creative subject matter that required funky beats to go with it as well.
In this album Lil Wayne is mainly reflecting on all the success that has led him to this point in his career, being one of the most successful rappers. He is seen bragging in tracks such as; 3 Peat, Mr. Carter, A Milli and Got Money. I believe that he has earned the right to brag because he came up from a struggle when he was young. As quoted from “The Carter” documentary, his father figure Birdman stated “I wanted to give him hope, I know what it was like out on the streets and so I wanted to make the studio his streets, we were in the studio all day”.
Some meaningful political content can be found on the album which I will discuss later on tracks such as “Tie My Hands” and “Dontgetit”. Lil Wayne remains on point with his lyrics, he keeps a tight original flow and is able to tie words together in a very creative manner, giving his lyrics multiple hidden meanings. Aside from the album’s message that Wayne has now made it to the top as one of the greatest rappers, I believe the album serves for one other critical purpose. The power of this album, the weirdest part, is that it was extremely successful yet the content is not characteristic of mainstream rap.
There is some very strange and innovative content that is typically not found on the radio. Songs like Mrs Officer (wanting to screw a female police officer), Phone Home (basically stating he is an alien) and Dr Carter (portraying the role of a doctor) are material you would never expect to find on a mainstream rap album. I think that Lil Wayne wanted to break the barriers of what a regular commercial rap album should contain, content wise. With this album he achieved something special, he rapped about content that is normally too weird and confusing to be mainstream but became very successful anyways.
Tha Carter 3 was in opposition to most of modern rap, it shuts down the idea that a successful rap album must be approached in a specific manner, format. While the album does contain a couple pop singles to appeal to the masses, the artist seems to stay true to himself. He approaches the content in a courageous way, with his own originality and bizarre lyrics. In the documentary Wayne said “he wanted the album to be full of the best rap, best songs and not just what you look for now”, not only did he want to inspire other rappers but he wanted to inspire artists from other genres to do way more, push the limits.
This is where the true power of the album lies, in it’s creativity and message to other artists to not do it the “conventional” way. In terms of criticism towards the album, I would say it lacks a bit of meaningful content. The track list flows smoothly, it is very balanced with all sorts of creative style and content but from such a good rapper you would just expect there to be a little more meaning behind it. I will now breakdown most of the track list while focusing on the songs that demonstrate the album’s originality and meaningful content.
Track by Track Breakdown “3 Peat” The introduction track opens up with “They can’t stop me, even if they stopped me”. Meaning even if he was killed, he has made it and his music will live on. This track is all about establishing where he is in hip-hop. “You cant get on my level, you would need a space shuttle or a ladder that’s forever”. This song is Wayne bragging he is at the top now, in his typical creative ways. The next few tracks are very similar in message. The tracks remain lyrically very creative (metaphors, 1 liners etc).
However they don’t have much meaning behind them, they are all of the braggadocio style as well. Mr Carter is seen as a track where Jay Z is sort of passing the hip-hop torch down to Wayne as one of the best. A Milli and Got Money are about the financial success he has achieved, one delivered in a freestyle the other in a pop style. “Comfortable” This next track is emotional, a soulful beat produced by Kanye. It is about a girl in his life being replaceable, hence the title do not get too comfortable.
This is a rare moment where Wayne actually brings himself down a level and shows vulnerability. I think the meaning behind this song applies to the girl but hip-hop as well. He believes he is at the top but knows that he can be replaceable, this motivates him to work hard and maintain a great work ethic to stay at the top. “Dr Carter” This track is probably the most creative on the album, the song is one large metaphor. In fact Talib Kweli even called it one of the best rap songs he’s ever heard. In recent times some of the older rappers have claimed hip-hop is dying.
Wayne responds to this notion by acting as a doctor for hip-hop. In this song Wayne is treating patients (rappers) the first 2 verses and he loses the rappers because of their weak flow, style, originality etc. The last verse he is able to save the patient who he reveals is hip-hop, ” I can only see flow his blood starting to flow, His lungs starting to grow this one’s starting to show, Strong signs of life where’s the stitches here’s the knife, Smack his face his eyes open I reply “What a night”, Welcome back hip hop I saved your life”.
This is Wayne showing that hip hop is not dead, it just needs to be freshened up, artists need to me more creative and innovative with their work. The song is a creative way to challenge other rappers to get out their comfort zone and think of new ideas that haven’t been done in the past. “Tie My Hands” Tie My Hands is the track on the album with the most meaningful content, there is a lot to take in. The subject matter is negative but Wayne finds a way to inspire at the same time. This track is about the effect Hurricane Katrina had on his city, New Orleans.
That tragedy came, knocked everyone down but Wayne promises to fight on. This is not the first time he addressed this subject matter, as he also talked about George Bush’s negative reaction in the song “Georgia Bush”. He speaks from the heart and talks about how his city of New Orleans received very little help during Hurricane Katrina, specifically from the local and national government and George Bush. It gets even more specific implying that the African-American population was oppressed (because they were poor and unimportant). I knock on the door, hope isn’t home, Fate’s not around the lucks all gone”. This is a personification of what a victim would need to get through a tragedy but of course none of those were present. ” Take away the football team, the basketball team, And all we got is me to represent New Orleans, shit, No governor, no help from the mayor, Just a steady beating heart and a wish and a prayer, let’s pray”. Following Hurricane Katrina both the city’s sports teams actually relocated because of poor conditions.
Wayne really was the last major symbol to represent New Orleans but “the essence of the art of MCing lies in empowerment and strength”(Alsalman 29) and so he showed pride and courage even in a time of tragedy. Naturally as I saw all the criticism towards the government I had to research more on it. The criticism of the situation mainly consisted of the government’s mismanagement and lack of leadership in their effort to help the city afterwards. Specifically that any help for the flooding of New Orleans was very delayed, and that citizens were left hopeless for days.
George Bush was specifically criticized for not caring about the black people, this being one of the reasons the city received little and late help (Thevenot). This is not just Wayne taking the matter to heart, his criticism is actually justified because many people died after the Hurricane from exhaustion, thirst and violence, all things that could have been prevented with timely and proper treatment. It is great to see Lil Wayne tackle controversial subject matter, bring hip-hop back to it’s routes, he shows the effect it can have when a public figure stands up to injustices. Let The Beat Build” This is the other Kanye produced track that is once again soulful. This and A Milli are the songs where Wayne spits the hardest. In this track he builds up and breaks down his flow, switching up styles each verse dramatically. This song stays in touch with the creative theme of the album, as he is literally telling other rappers how to flow on a beat, to be original and to switch up your style to stay fresh. “Dontgetit” The outro on this album is about 10 minutes and leaves you thinking about some of the injustices in America.
The song starts off by Wayne saying he is misunderstood, he does good in his life but he is complicated so most people don’t understand him. Then after about 3 minutes he stops rapping to talk over the beat for a 6 minute rant. In this rant he dives into political content, talking about the hood compared to the suburbs and white people compared to black. He says that police are always driving around the hood because this is where the drugs are found.
Wayne tackles this issue of racism and explains the reason for why most of the Americans in jail are black and/or drug dealers. ” We probably only selling the crack cocaine just because we in the hood, And it’s not like the suburbs, We don’t have the things that you have, Why, I really don’t want to know the answer, I guess we just misunderstood uh, yeah, You know we don’t have room in the jail Now for the real motherfuckers, the real criminals, you know, Sex offenders, rapists, serial killers, shit like that”.
Wayne shows that it really is a misunderstanding, they are dealing drugs to get to the suburbs. Kids from the hood don’t have the normal benefits of 2 parents, a nice home or even good school systems, so sometimes there are no other options left if they want to succeed, make it out the hood. With that being said now the jails are filled with “harmless” criminals and the real, dangerous criminals are free, a true misunderstanding. The second part of this rant deals specifically with another individual, Al Sharpton a well-known politician/activist.
As I did not know much about the individual I did some research on him. In this research I found that Sharpton sometimes speaks his mind just to gather lots of attention on controversial subjects (Farber). Al Sharpton took a shot at rappers saying they degrade woman and Lil Wayne responded on his album, a voice that would certainly be heard. Wayne stated that Sharpton would rather speculate than look at the facts and form an opinion, that he does not have good humanity.
He concludes that Sharpton is no Jessie Jackson, no MLK, that although he a civil right activist because of his inhuman behaviour he is a nobody to him. He then ends the song with saying he loves being misunderstood because he lives in the suburbs but comes from the hood. This song shows how Wayne has grown as an artist and is not afraid to tackle controversial subject matter. That perhaps he is most suitable to open people’s eyes on these controversial subjects because he has lived in both perspectives, he has been poor and rich.
Ultimately Wayne loves his country and is trying to create peace by showing both sides to the story and trying to help the general population understand. He brings it back to the beginning of hip-hop, trying to make a difference and inspire the next generation, “The intersection between Hip-Hop and politics has empowered a generation of youth to believe that they not only have the right but maybe even an obligation to make a difference in their world” (Alsalman 42).
Alsalman, Yassin. The Diatribes of a Dying Tribe. S.l.: Write or Wrong/Paranoid Arab Boy Pub., 2011. Print.
The Carter Documentary. Dir. Adam Bhala Lough. Perf. Lil Wayne. 2009. DVD.
Farber, M. A. “Sharpton: Champion or Opportunist?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 Feb. 1988. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.
Thevenot, Brian, and Gordon Russell. “Reports of Anarchy at Superdome Overstated.” Nation & World. N.p., 26 Sept. 2005. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.