Rolling Stone has deemed Tha Carter III the best Hip-Hop album of the year. MTV has called “A Milli” the best Hip-Hop song of the year. The latest chapter in Tha Carter series has gone cabillion platinum. Like it or not, history has painted Tha Carter III as a modern day classic marking Lil’ Wayne’s arrival.
But this is only the latest transgression in Lil’ Wayne revisionist history. Many act as though he crash landed from Mars right around when Dedication 2 dropped. The fact is, Lil’ Wayne has had a career spanning roughly a decade. During that time, he’s at worse been an above average MC with a grand catalog of great solo songs. After revisiting literally over 450 songs, here is the definitive career-spanning list of the top 20 Lil’ Wayne solo songs.
No features or Auto-Tuning allowed.
In Lil’ Wayne’s 500 or so songs, not a single one sounds like this. Wayne gets his Twista on to keep things completely gutta. He spits over quadruple-timed Mannie beats in a flow that is completely A-typical for Lil’ Wayne, but it works for the young spitter.
19. “Upgrade U”
You ever see Drunken Master? The premise is that Jackie Chan needs a certain specific amount of alcohol that allows him to be smooth and impervious to pain enough that it makes him a better fighter. Drought 3 is where Weezy reaches that same sort of cracked out equilibrium that allows his wackiness to be a sign of brilliance. No track exhibits this fact as much as Wayne’s destruction of the Beyonce single. He even takes time to give a R.I.P. to Apollo Creed mid-song.
18. “Block Is Hot”
Wayne’s first album was a mish-mash of Hot Boys collaborations that were needed to make records fly off of the shelves. This was Lil’ Wayne’s true first exposure to mainstream success. Yeah, the song was mainly pushed by Mannie Fresh’s beat and a hook from red-hot Juve and B.G. But if you listen closely, you’ll hear a boatload of potential from Weezy Wee.
So the whole world has pictures of you kissing a grown ass man on the lips. So how does a rapper respond? Well, Wayne cleans off the skid marks from a beat he already diarrhea dumped on once and decided to re-shit on the “We Takin Over” beat. No cutting corners “Damn right, I kiss my Daddy/ I think they pissed at how rich my daddy is/ and I’m his kid I stunt like with my Daddy/ So diss me and don’t diss my daddy.” Yeah, that worked. I hope Rick Ross is somewhere taking notes.
One of the reason Lights Out is a standout album for Wayne is the fact that it starts out like gangbusters. This track and “On My Grind” keep the album going at a Mannie Fresh-aided rapid fire pace. Sirens, horns and double timed drums allow Wayne to play up the paranoia and pressure of the corner. His hook-writing ability is on full display as well with “Uh-oh you see the fuckin po-po’s and if you know like I know you betta get off tha corner!” being a heavily recited hook in the streets.
Yea, “Georgia…Bush” is a great ode to New Orleans and condemnation of the Katrina debacle. But the story is when the beat switches- *duh duh duh duh* “Money money money get a dollar and a dick/ Weezy Baby that crack muthafucka get a fix/ got money out the ass no homo but I’m rich.” Baby’s son proceeds to obliterate the track, rhyming at almost every other syllable in a landmark track that put a lot of people on to how much he’s grown as a wordsmith.
Before Carter II, Wayne was in full Jaypreciation mode, spitting over a bunch of Jigga tracks and mimicking the older Carter’s style. Over the “Dear Summer” beat, he delivered a true ode to Katrina victims. “Niggas with money lost mansions/ Niggas with nothing lost families/ Lives lost in traffic, water up to the attic/ There go the stashes.” New Wayne fans point to “Tie My Hands” as a great tribute to N.O., but this solemn track is the true heartfelt ode to the Big Easy.
13. “Go DJ”
…the fuck? Those who only knew the N.O. MC as the kid from the end of “Back That Azz Up” were wondering who this new cat was and how did he get so good. This was one of the last great Mannie Fresh/Lil’ Wayne collaborations and it worked to perfection. Some will contend that this was Wayne’s first album, and it’s hard to argue against that point as this is the most traditionally lyrical Wayne gets. No wacked out lines that make you scratch your head. Just an onslaught of great bars.
12. “I’m Me”
This was the original intro to Carter III and was an obvious better choice to begin that album as it towers over eventually chosen “3 Peat” as far superior. Baby’s son sounds inspired declaring about the game “I’m married to that crazy bitch, call me Kevin Federline.” In between hooks that use sampled old Wayne bars, it’s quite clear how far Lil’ Wayne has come in his career.
11. “Cry Now”
Who knows where this track was supposed to land and when exactly it was made. However, it started making its rounds in the height of Weezy’s current nonsensical phase and reminded everyone that Lil Wayne and his peers have seen some shit in New Orleans. He aptly demonstrates the thin line between success and the poverty around him. He deals with the distance he must keep between himself and the world he was raised in, while lamenting about his troubled relationship with his family members and former friends while seemingly choking back tears the whole time: “I swear I got a lump in my throat/ But I’m gon’ keep on pumpin the flow/ So if I cry, don’t stop the beat/ I feel like my heart just stopped the beat.”
Maybe it’s the explosive BET performance that has helped build the legend of this track. Tha Carter III anticipation was at a fever pitch. 50 was throwing jabs. The coke/syrup accusations were fueling fears of pending death. And Wayne responded by coolly walking on stage, cup in hand, and unleashed a fiery response: “Stop hatin on a nigga/ that is a weak emotion, the lady of a nigga…”
Don’t look now, but Weezy done took himself to college. “Fresh on campus it’s the Birdman Jr./ Money too long, teachers put away ya rulers.” Metaphors became a little more complex. More worldly ideas started to push Wayne’s subject matter past New Orleans. He moved past his Jay-like flow to find his own, more fluid way of dancing around the beat. The “what the fuck does that mean” lines were also starting to creep in (“Riding by myself, well really not really”). What resulted was a single that was made almost solely by Wayne’s flow and delivery which was rare during the snap era.
For anyone that thinks that Lil’ Wayne was a sub-par MC before the Carter series, look no further than this track from his 2nd LP. Every line has a multi-syllabic rhyme scheme that is above what anyone in his camp was providing at the time. “Most of our customers come up to us daily/ yet and still I cut that stuff crazy, a hustla baby/ What can I give you? I distribute keys to the kings/ O-Zs to the fiends and Ecstasy and weed to the teens.” It’s his descriptive picture of the corner boy that steals the show on this track.
For a year or so before Tha Carter III was released, Wayne seemed to be making songs for the album only to have them leaked seemingly the next day. Who knows what the initial vision of the work was supposed to be. But almost weekly, we were hit with a new album-quality Wayne song. This song utilized a chilling sample and molasses slow tempo that made for the perfect backdrop for Weezy to essentially make cocaine on wax. In a disturbingly creative turn, Lil’ Wayne went into almost spoken word territory to explain his drug induced trips in one of the most poetic songs in his catalog.
“To the radio stations/ I’m tired of being patient/ Stop being rapper racist/Region haters.” Weezy flips a Robin Thicke song to emote on a bevy of topics. The 2nd verse steals the show, though. Wayne puts the south on his shoulders to demand he get respected as the powerhouse MC he’s always been. This was the most emotional, passionately delivered song on an album full of potent lyrics.
5. “BM J.R.”
“See we grind from the bottom just to make it to the bottom at the very bottom of the map.” The Roc influence was particularly strong with Young Carter on this album and it shows. Call it biting if you want, but this influence chartered a new chapter of complexity for Lil’ Wayne. He experiments with a more sing-song flow that we have grown accustomed to recently while also maintaining his ever-growing metaphor game in this celebration of he and his daddy’s relationship.
4. “Dr. Carter”
In the face of an album chock full of gibberish, Wayne was able to tackle Swizz’s stripped down beat to concoct a coherent ode to Hip-Hop in which he diagnoses and offers to solve a few problems young MCs face. Dense metaphors, poignant allusions and a fluid rhyme scheme make this one of the most creative tracks in Weezy’s catalogue.
3. “A Milli”
It doesn’t get much more spastically fascinating than Wayne spewing his syrup-induced craziness over the heavy snares and Tribe sample. Venereal diseases. Menstruation. Badu. Dennis Rodman. This is the 2008 Wayne. The stream of consciousness word association and vocal experimentation has made “A Millie” an undeniable movement so far. Even Weezy haters couldn’t help but quote a few bars when this song comes on.