December 28, 2008 1:38 PM   Subscribe

lil wayne's tha carter III got an 8.7 on Pitchfork, and made Rolling Stone's #3 album of 2008. I've listened to the album several times, and although I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about modern music, I just don't get it. Why do reviewers love this album?
posted by plexi to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Uhmm . . . its good. What is there to understand? It may not be your particular cup of tea, but that's just how music works.

I personally think that lil wayne's lyrics are well written and interesting (especially in the void that is popular hip-hop). The beats/samples on many of the songs are catchy as hell (I couldn't get that sample from "a milli" out of my head for weeks). Overall, its just a really good album.
posted by anansi at 2:24 PM on December 28, 2008

Trope subversion is my answer.
posted by johnbaskerville at 2:36 PM on December 28, 2008

The reviews you linked to contain the reasons why those reviewers liked it.
posted by CKmtl at 2:47 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lil' Wayne is one of the most interesting rapers working. Critics love him because he gives them lots to talk about: He puts out a ridiculous amount of music through mixtapes and on remixes; he supposedly doesn't actually "write" any of his lyrics; he is probably insane; he probably has a major drug problem; he gets in trouble with the law- in short, he's a fucking rock star.
I'm not the biggest wayne fan but I definitely understand the appeal. There's so little personality in the mainstream music world these days, it's nice to have somebody shaking things up a bit.
posted by ryaninoakland at 2:49 PM on December 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

Lil' Wayne is the king of punchline rap with great flow and surprisingly honest lyrics. I'm happy he's around.
posted by jedrek at 3:24 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

His lyrical skill is pretty great. His beats are catchy. He infuses rock and electronic elements into his music making it different than more typical rap music. Many people say his mixtapes are better than his official albums.
posted by hazyspring at 3:33 PM on December 28, 2008

As far as pitchfork, have you heard the other stuff they're gushing over? I listened to their 2008 best of, 1 through maybe 15, and only one or two provided any evidence that it wasn't a joke. It was bad-80's-synth-band bad, worse for the retreading.

Pitchfork and the rest can like it, just don't think that speaks to any objective value.
posted by NortonDC at 3:38 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

As far as pitchfork, have you heard the other stuff they're gushing over?

I'm with NortonDC on this. I always dig through the Pitchfork end of the year list and always find it stacked with the most unremarkable and forgettable crap ever.

I think the problem is that, in a media rich world, places like Pitchfork continue to have to justify their paycheck, so they take a holistic approach to music reviews, which means they lend as much, if not more, value to the aesthetic of the act, rather than the music actually being produced. So they will drone on endlessly about the "world" these artists inhabit, their history of problems or whatever, and oh by the way the cd is okay too...

If you don't like a cd that the critics are gushing over, you don't like. There is nothing wrong with you, there may actually be something wrong with the critics.
posted by wfrgms at 4:19 PM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Kelefa Sanneh of the New York Times says this, I think this accurately captures what a lot of critics think:

Lil Wayne works his magic by grabbing other people's beats and rhyming over them, Sanneh reports. Lil Wayne sounds a bit like a frog, Sanneh says, and he packs the bluesy sound typical of New Orleans rappers.

"He was putting words together in a way that other people weren't," Sanneh argues. "This is one of the things that makes hip-hop so entertaining. Every few years someone gets in a zone, where they sound great, and they sound almost as if they're doing it unconsciously."
posted by hazyspring at 4:29 PM on December 28, 2008

I listened to their 2008 best of, 1 through maybe 15, and only one or two provided any evidence that it wasn't a joke. It was bad-80's-synth-band bad, worse for the retreading.

You mean Hot Chip? Some people like that.

Personally, I can't see much merit in Lil' Wayne actually it makes me violently sick but other people do. I think the reviewers do an OK job at explaining why they like it.

Also: Chatfilter.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:32 PM on December 28, 2008

I still think it's a mass delusion. There's great rap out there but I think corporate rap got so bad that weezy is now heralded as not only a great rapper, but one of the best ever. Which would be obviously patently preposterous if it weren't for some rappers I respect echoing that nonsense chant.

But I wonder if they do that as a circling the wagons thing. If weezy is selling like crazy, and it's widely acknowledged to be crap, then hip hop is lost. Better, I think the good rappers thought to themselves, to latch on to him, to do tracks with him, to attach the good stuff to the bad, then to just cede the mainstream to this gigantic crap machine.

On the other hand, Plexi, perhaps folks like you and I and others in this thread are watching the evolution of music into styles and forms that get appreciated and we haven't learned to appreciate what he's putting out.

But I swear, I listen and I listen. I'm no Hov (Jay-Z) fan, but I understand why he gets love. I'm no Biggie fan, but I understand why he's regarded as a legend. I do like Tupac, Doom, Lyte, Eminem, Chuck D, Rakim, Wu-Tang and a number of other rappers that are obviously top 50 all time. I listen to a lot of "underground" stuff, and spend days listening to groups nobody has ever heard of, just because they're dope. And I am positive of one thing. Weezy sucks. He's trash. I'm convinced some of my favorite rappers (for example, little brother) embrace him for fear the entire market will collapse. In related news, no popular music, no reviews to make. No job for reviewers. I don't think they flat out lie, but I think they see what's being said by those in hip hop about lil wayne, and they buy in and convince themselves that he isn't garbage. I got four words for you. Don't Believe the Hype.
posted by cashman at 5:04 PM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

You mean Hot Chip?

I think they mean Hercules and the Love Affair, which indeed sounds like that.

Hip Hop is dead. (Though this is coming from me, someone who doesn't think it was ever alive.)
posted by Manhasset at 5:12 PM on December 28, 2008

This is how I feel about it... It may not answer your question completely, but at least provides some theories for Lil Wayne's popularity, at least.
posted by fructose at 5:41 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think lil wayne did get some extra praise for tha carter III because reviewers and the hip hop community are hanging their hopes on him because he's the best thing going right now, like others have said. I happen to think carter III is good but not great, but also that lil wayne is also pretty awesome. Tha Carter II has been one of my default rap albums since I got it a few years ago, and I do think it's better than Carter III.

So I'd say that I don't think wayne is a fraud or untalented, but that he gets the benefit of the doubt because he really is the only mainstream rapper doing anything "interesting" that doesn't seem like he's going towards the brainless dead end of corporate hip hop.
posted by Hello, Revelers! I am Captain Lavender! at 6:34 PM on December 28, 2008

Steer far clear from Pitchfork. The best alternative around is, in my opinion. Most of their writers are unpaid, they do it because they love it. Pitchfork is a hype generator and therefore is very susceptible to influence (cash etc).

TMT writes about the best in most ALT genres and their film reviews aren't bad either. Their top of 2008 is more obscure than most but the best lists throw you a few curves you might not have expected.
posted by huxley at 6:52 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Fructose, thank you. That is exactly how I feel and exactly what I was saying. I would have written precisely that. "He's still just Lil' Wayne, he is not the greatest rapper alive, he's not remotely close. " Yes. Yes a thousand times. He is not remotely close to being the greatest rapper alive, dead, almost dead or getting better. I think perhaps another element of some respected hip hop community members giving him the thumbs up (and thus influencing the reviewers) is the persistent idea that you don't want to hate on somebody who is selling. 'Don't knock the hustle' as it were.
posted by cashman at 7:00 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

he has a really unique & interesting voice. a lot of $$$$ for great producers doesn't hurt, nor does being such a big deal that every guest rapper on that album brings their A game. he does kind of expand the vocabulary through sheer weirdness, free associating. I like the album. I have the sense that a lot of music critics who make these lists don't listen to a lot of hip hop, and every year there is one hip hop album (maybe two) that is the critics/bloggers' favorite that suddenly they all have to pay attention to - it's Wayne this year, they were big on Clipse last year as I recall.

Also Hercules & Love Affair are completely awesome.
posted by citron at 7:50 PM on December 28, 2008

One word: Hipsters.
posted by Benjy at 7:53 PM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

There's a real folly in trying to understand the culture of music criticism and especially the hipster culture pitchfork is part of. Im certain a lot of what becomes popular is for bizarre reasons like "I heard them first and made them my pet band" or "Its so bad, its good" or "The music isnt great but the guy making it must be a genius/auteur/functional madman."

Toss in the subjectivity of all art and you really begin to appreciate arguments that music criticism is a useless and best ignored. If anything its a press release with a little more fluff than usual. Dont feel pressured to agree with critics or with whats currently popular. There's really no logic here. People enjoy what they enjoy. Its extremely personal.

Critics do help us find new music and perhaps broaden our horizons when they refer us to different genres or different artists. They arent entirely useless. Its also fair to point out that once you immerse yourself in an artform you begin to appreciate things on a more technical level or begin to have a lack of tolerance for the same-old same-old. For instace, the comedians I know dont laugh at the obvious puns and zingers that make up most sitcoms, but they might enjoy a real oddball joke or daring but not very funny comedian. Music critics might just love the idea of someone sampling some obscure artist but are sick of the catchy beats you love.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:55 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

White people love Lil Wayne. (Disclaimer: I am a white person who loves Lil Wayne.)

Why? The same reason they loved Cam'ron and Dipset (nonsensical lyrics, comedy value, radio-friendly songs with catchy hooks). The same reason they love MF DOOM (the occasionally clever non-sequitur or obscure reference that they can point to to demonstrate to haters how 'clever' rap music is). The same reason they love Jigga ("He doesn't write anything down!!!") . The same reason they loved ODB ("he's crazy!!!! and maybe a crack head!!!!") Ubiquity (his mixtape output is pretty much unprecedented). Persona. Swagger. Arrests. Refusal to go through metal detectors. Crazy facial tattoos. Pseudo-incestuous relationship with Baby, whom he calls "Daddy" and kisses on the mouth. For being the only former member of Cash Money that matters at all anymore (anyone heard from Turk or B.G. lately?). For being 26 and already having a decade-long rap career.

Basically, Weezy gets respect because he's survived the ebb and flow of the nationwide popularity of dirty south rap that began (arguably) in New Orleans in the late 1990s with No Limit Records and Cash Money Records. So much crap comes out of the south (sorry--OutKast, Goodie Mob and the Geto Boys don't atone for the sins against hip-hop committed by Lil Jon, Dem Franchize Boyz, D4L, Soulja Boy, Master P, Gucci Mane, Shawty Lo....shall I continue?) that people's standards for "good" southern rap is really, really low. That Weezy has been able to transition from "Tha Block is Hot" and "Bling Bling" to tracks like "Georgia Bush" is kind of amazing, so part of the props he gets now for his lyrical prowess on Tha Carter III (and I, and II) is just by virtue of being a southern rap artist initially associated with incredibly (incredibly!) lowbrow music, lyrical content-wise. So people give him a pass that they wouldn't necessarily give an artist coming out of New York, for example.

The (white) music press falls all over themselves to praise Lil Wayne in an attempt to prove, I think, how "down" they are with hip hop--his albums sell on the strength of his singles ("Lollipop" is still ubiquitous in clubs, "Mrs. Officer" and "Comfortable" also got/have consistent radio play), but since "commercial" is such a dirty word in rap critic circles, reviewers have to resort to calling Wayne "absurd," a "Gangster dandy," an "Intergalactic prankster," in an effort to justify how 'deep' or 'meaningful' they claim his records are. Hipsters love southern rap now, you didn't hear? And not in an ironic way or anything! Weezy is super profound! He's bizarre, so you know he must be!

Anyway. I like Lil Wayne cause I like the way the music sounds. Best rapper alive? No. Top 10 of all time? No. Top 50? No. Hot now, in 2008? Sure.

P.S. Pitchfork doesn't know shit about rap music. Neither does Rolling Stone. The best rap record of 2008 was clearly Q-Tip's.
posted by cosmic osmo at 8:15 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

He has a unique flow and rhythm. He uses creative wordplay. He can be absurd and even funny. And most importantly I think for the critics, he doesn't rely heavily on rap cliches and formulas.

Having said that, his content is generally devoid of a deeper meaning and thoughtful introspection. He has garnered a lot of hits and praise, but I think he will ultimately fall short of the greats: Nas, Biggie, Jay-Z, 2Pac.

He should take a cue from TI and write.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 8:18 PM on December 28, 2008

I'm in the camp that doesn't get Lil Wayne either. He was a joke when Cash Money got air play and he is a joke now.

It's not so much that I don't get Lil Wayne, it's more that I don't get why his fan base loves him so much. I can understand people blindly loving pop sensations like Britney and NSync. I don't like their music, but I get why someone would. Lil Wayne's fan base just baffles me. At best, he is goofy. And I don't want "goofy" in my rap.

Yes, mainstream rap is crap. But just because it is crap doesn't mean that we have to look at it like the glass half full. There used to be a day when lyrical content mattered more. Case in point: Pac, Biggie, early DMX. Some of the content was down-right spiritual.

In my opinion, a good rapper can do all types of rap - club, love, hip-hop, battle, party, etc. From 2002ish on, it has been all about a club hit. We're back to 1 dimensional rap.

I hope we can get back to the "good days," but year after year it just gets worse. I'm hoping Detox will help interrupt, but for all I know Dre might be using an auto-tune. Until then, I'm going to support: Crooked I, Bishop Lamont, DJ Quik, Sly Boogy and hope they can do something big. To me, Crooked I could be in that top 5 of all time. Dude has rapped circles around everyone the last 10 years.

/end incoherent rant
posted by colecovizion at 10:38 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I really wouldn't look to Pitchfork for its rap reviews in the first place. But a very knowledgeable rap critic who loves Lil Wayne is Noz of Cocaine Blunts. I would search his site for Lil Wayne and see what you get. He writes thoughtful, incisive, rich hip hop reviews that will probably give you some insight.
posted by Rudy Gerner at 6:51 AM on December 29, 2008

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