*On June 11th, ‘Tha Carter III,’ Lil’ Wayne’s sixth studio album, will turn ten years old. The most feature-stacked release from Dwayne Carter at the time, ‘Tha Carter III’ had Wayne collaborating with artists like Babyface, Robin Thicke, and Bobby Valentino, to name a few; and with producers like Bangladesh, Kanye West, David Banner and even “Too Many Freaks” legends Play N Skillz.

To commemorate ‘Tha Carter III’s’ tenth birthday – and as a prelude to our upcoming ‘Deconstruction’ of the album – our own Bradford J. Howard sought out five different perspectives from five different personalities and contributors to the hip-hop culture. Each will take their own trip down memory lane with ‘C3,’ by sharing their favorite song.

The journey began with The Producer, and now it continues.*

Aaron Williams – better known as Aaron Smarter – is gifted at talking about many things. Though he’s currently Hip-Hop Editor for UPROXX (his most recent piece on Kendrick Lamar’s siding with XXXTentation is a must-read), “hip-hop” is far from all he is. He contributes his opinions on pop culture via his work with The Compton Beach Show, for example, and also covers The Drew League during the summer. He’s the definition of a cultural critic.

Bloggers have officially carved a place into the hip-hop culture. Before the Internet, you found out about albums from print media (hi, XXL!) and shared opinions via three-way phone conversations or debates during lunch period. These days, we anxiously await the opinions of cultural critics to share their opinions on what’s hot and what isn’t. We have our own minds, of course. But the casual or the die-hard rap fan can’t help but feel reassured when a critic’s opinion about an album lines up with their own. That’s why the cultural critic’s perspective was so important.


Tha Carter III may be a seminal work in hip-hop. Some might even call it a “classic,” but by no means is it perfect. Its execution could generously be labeled as “loose” or “freewheeling.” It could also not-so-generously be called “inconsistent” or “sloppy.” Late 2000s era Wayne was just beginning his public unraveling, and the frayed edges were beginning to show in his music. Various tracks on Tha Carter III sound rough, incomplete, haggard, rushed.

However.

There is that one track that was so precisely executed that, while it comes off sounding like a bad pun, there’s no other way to describe it but “surgical.” I’m referring here, of course, to “Dr. Carter,” the Swizz Beats-produced sixth track built around a David Axelrod sample that sounds like it was lifted wholesale from the original recording’ and an extended metaphor that finds Lil Wayne desperately trying to resuscitate the embodiment of hip-hop itself.

It’s not the first time hip-hop, the concept, was anthropomorphized in song: Common has at least half a dozen songs and verses continuing the metaphor of his Resurrection single, “I Used To Love H.E.R.,” including the excellent and overlooked “A Film Called Pimp” (wherein MC Lyte took over the role of the oft-maltreated mistress). Where Common and others of his super-conscious, boom-bap-loving, backpack-toting ilk bore a penchant for romanticizing rap as a wayward, “Black girl lost”-style character, Lil Wayne was more concerned with the immediate here-and-now of rappers who lack skill, swagger, and respect for the game.

There’s no nostalgia here. There’s just bodies on the table in need of the deft lyrical treatment of the titular Dr. Carter. A nurse reels off a litany of maladies: Lack of concepts and originality. Weak flow. Low confidence. Poor style. Disrespect for the rap game. And below par swagger. Wayne rolls up his sleeves and gets to work.

The number of “Real MCs” who’ve tackled this concept are legion, but absolutely none of them hold a candle to Weezy on “Dr. Carter.” The song is nothing if not emblematic of the principle of “show, don’t tell.” Wayne’s topsy-turvy flow contorts and twists back in on itself as each verse addresses a specific issue, while simultaneously exemplifying the quality of the craft he struggles to imbue his “patients” with.

 

The victim in the first verse suffers from weak flow and originality, so Wayne blesses him with an array of casual one-liners and clever wordplay that fails to prevent the flatline. Wayne then grapples with his second patient’s lack of respect for the game, explaining the lyrical homages that pepper some of the finest rap catalogs, while doing the same with his verse. He continues to sprinkle in punchlines, building on the foundation established earlier in the track. But verse two also bears nods to some of his competitors, collaborators, and predecessors, showing them all the respect that is prerequisite to flourishing in hip-hop.

Unfortunately, he can’t save this one, either, because it takes more than a respect for the game and half-decent bars to represent hip-hop with pride. It takes swagger, and this is where Wayne shines, because he’s got swagger in spades. It’s swagger that allows the best MCs to pull off unorthodox stylistic deviations from traditional rap standards, to try a new delivery, cadence, voice, or outlandish comparison like the ones Wayne is known for. It’s swagger that allows Wayne to bring hip-hop back to life in an era when the greats were all retired from boredom and declaring that “Hip-Hop Is Dead.”

Fundamentals are great, but playing a purely fundamental game runs the risk of becoming boring, stagnant, staid. The greats all mastered fundamentals. But it’s that touch of extra charisma, of verve, of vainglorious bluster that transformed greats into legends, allowing said legends to scribe their own myths. Without it, rap music is just aggressive sonnets over drums, not worth the billions of dollars generated, millions of lives affected, and global cultures upended over the course of its 40-year history. With it, hip-hop is a living, breathing culture that can never die.

“Dr. Carter” didn’t just save hip-hop – he provided the blueprint to keep it alive long after he’s hung up his mic and scrubs.

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