I have been reluctant to comment on the runaway omnipresence of Tha Carter III because it was an album I could not really wrap my brain around until now. Tha Lil Wayne of Tha Carter III is ego steeped in the black flood water of New Orleans, marked up in symbols like those informing the number dead in the attic, ragtag and unlikely to have survived the ordeal that formed him/it. Like everyone in Louisiana, I'm tired of talking about hurricanes and devastation and how the president don't care and how flooded Iowans don't care and how it seems like we don't care anymore. I don't care that no one cares, I can't make them care. I can't care anymore if they care.
But here in Baton Rouge, a city just enough inland to generally not be completely destroyed by hurricanes, got nearly wiped out by Hurricane Gustav, unbeknownst to the rest of the world because New Orleans made it out OK and there was a dull, surprised woman from Alaska vying for the nation's attention. I felt miffed that Anderson Cooper was not trotting down my street, but also realized there is little he'd have to offer. There is no wisdom to glean in devastation, only new instincts for flight and calluses for persistence.
So as the days stretched without power, the sound that erupted from the piles of rubble and from every passing car and from my own headphones was Lil Wayne, bellowing I need a Winn-Dixie bag of money brought to the VIP section right now! In the drone of gas generators and utility trucks and chainsaws I could hear the nattering rattle of a milli, a milli, a milli, a milli, a milli....on and on until it got too dark and too hot to do anything. I tried to distract myself with intellectual obtuseness, relying on years of music snob escapism to pull me out of the now, and as soon as the distraction was over, I'd put on Tha Carter III.
Tha Carter III is not the brilliant hip-hop triumph of the summer; that honor goes to Nas' untitled knucleduster of a record, one that lures you into head bobbing unison and then punches you in the gut and laughs as you double over stunned. It is not the season's guilty pleasure pop jam - that would be Aceyalone's Lightning Strikes, an improbably good mix of motormouth dancehall and vocal trapeze antic underground hip-hop, neither genre being a particular favorite of mine, that makes you want to invest in some roller skates and bad ass shades. It's not even the sound of the underground; Wayne has fifty-some-off mixtapes providing that subterranean vibration. Lil Wayne's technical skills are partially lifted from the latter-day poo-talk paranoia of Lee Scratch Perry and lyrically his claim to fame is having, as the Eskimo allegedly do for snow, ninety ways to describe getting his dick sucked. Sometimes I listen to Tha Carter III and think it is so stupid it comes around to brilliant from the other end, but mostly, it is strange alien balm providing the sole relief for this summer's existential rash.
It is smooth and jagged, funny and deadly, scary and huggable. At first, I thought Lil Wayne sounded authentic - crying and coughing and wheezing - but that is foolish; no folk poet is ever authentic, they are just smart enough to make you think their authentic. What Lil Wayne is, is real, the real of a complex reality of having everything turned upside-down. From the opening yeah-zerr, they can't stop me to the cautionary dissertation that closes it, Tha Carter III rises out of the dark water and the downed trees and the sweaty clothes and the easy fuck-this-shit that is the quick reaction to tragedy and levitates over the surface. There is no proud sufferer in Lil Wayne, there is instead a resilient veneer over a mess, a growling grinning goblin staggering and swaggering out of the rubble giving you that look. If I were to stage the typical corny Louisiana image of a frolicking parade, I'd have the Southern University band pound out "A Milli," leading a zombified horde of the sweaty and the exhausted, middle finger up fuck the police, cackling and gagging on bong hits, vehemently trampling the pity and disillusionment the rest of the world has about our backwater. We are Lil Wayne, and y'all all know you love us. Y'all can't help it.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com