Tha Carter III is truly a hip hop time capsule, memorializing extreme highs and lows of the genre. The sixth studio album from Lil Wayne would prove to be his best, showcasing the lyrical acrobatics that made him one of the most revered rappers of a generation. Unfortunately, it also displays an unmistakable misogyny and homophobia that plagued the genre for decades.
One of the greatest albums of our lifetime also serves as a stark reminder of how far we’ve come in just 10 short years, and how much further we have left to go.
Tha Carter III is littered with hits and distinctive moments that make it impossible to forget, but perhaps the reason the music still stands so vivid is because of Lil Wayne himself. Coming from the projects of New Orleans, Wayne began his path to stardom at a young age as a part of Cash Money Records’ rise to power in the late 90s. In the matter of a decade, Wayne had blossomed into a star full of personality and humor, reaching the peak of the cultural zeitgeist by the time of the album’s release. By the summer of 2008, Lil Wayne was larger than life.
It’s hard to imagine most artists cashing in on that moment as firmly as Wayne did with Tha Carter III. With a running time of over 76 minutes, the album is a behemoth full of moving parts and voices, but at its core, it’s a celebration. The production is slick, the stylized autotuned vocals drip with bravado, and Wayne’s legendary wordplay is on full display, even if the constant double entendres begin to wear you thin.
No song on the album captures this motif better than “A Milli”, a track about nothing in particular that astounded upon first listen and still seems impossible to comprehend. Rumored to have been recorded in one take as a freestyle, the song quickly took on a life of its own – too winding and crass for radio but a track that you had to share with everyone you knew the moment you heard it. Wayne’s punchline of, “I can turn a crack rock into a mountain” near the song’s end still causes my hands to raise involuntarily just as the ghastly Dennis Rodman line causes me to cringe.
Even with its bloated length, Tha Carter III contains enough entertainment to make the time pass quickly. From the fantastic opening of “Mr. Carter” with Jay-Z to the unforgettable beat of “Mrs. Officer”, the album’s standouts are peppered in between hidden gems. The production on “Lollipop” and “Got Money” is appropriately over the top and drenched in autotune, serving as a glimpse into the world of pop rap in the late aughts. When Wayne manages to slur out on the latter, “I’m a Great Dane, I wear eight chains / I’m in so much ice, they yell, ‘Skate, Wayne!’” it’s an outlandish reminder of the hilariously hypnotic grip he held on listeners with such ease.
In hindsight, Tha Carter III and Lil Wayne’s own brand of over-the-top revelry arrived just in the nick of time. Later that year, 808s & Heartbreak would turn the genre on a dime, ushering in a new era of emotive, existential hip hop, driven by minimalism and dark tones that lasted until Kanye himself teamed up with Jay-Z to Watch the Throne. Perhaps it makes sense that Wayne could never follow that thread, forever cursed with a million dollar smile and a penchant for a life lived at 100.
Instead, he continues as a cultural icon and a living example of a rapper existent on both sides of hip hop’s social journey. While Wayne could never fully deliver an acclaimed follow-up, maybe it wasn’t necessary. Even amidst its growing pains, Tha Carter III helped usher in a new awareness and interest in hip hop on a mass scale, evolving Lil Wayne into a multi-faceted, bonafide star in the process.
How we’ll reflect on the more difficult moments of albums like Tha Carter III, or even albums with a more recent release date, in another 10 years’ time remains to be seen. For now, we learn while we listen and continue to ask questions of the art we love.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.