Run It Back is a retrospective review of classic or game-changing hip-hop releases whose style and sound still resonate with listeners in the modern, streaming-driven era. Hip-hop has always been a forward-facing, youth-oriented culture, but it’s also deeply informed by the past. This is our way of bridging the gap, paying homage to rap’s roots while exploring how they still hold relevance today.
In 2008, you couldn’t go anywhere online without hearing “A Milli” or one of its approximately 5,878 incarnations, whether “remixes” or freestyles. The song boomed across blacktop basketball courts and out of car radios, and its video practically dominated the final days of music video television shows.
It might be safe to say it was both the first ubiquitous rap hit of the digital age and the last of the prior era. It made Lil Wayne a household name across America — while he was well-known in urban pockets where hip-hop stations reigned supreme, “A Milli” and its parent album, Tha Carter III, constituted many folks’ first exposure to Weezy F. Baby and his screwball, absurdist approach to rapid-fire, stream-of-conscious punchlines. As a result, he became one of the most recognizable faces in rap, and an inspiration for an entire generation of rappers that was soon to follow. However, the album that houses that game-changing whirlwind of a hit doesn’t quite live up to its outsized impact.
It has its high points of course. Despite “A Milli” holding an exalted position as the highlight of the album due to its insane reception, that distinction actually belongs to emotional centerpiece “Tie My Hands,” featuring none other than Robin Thicke. A heartfelt ode to Wayne’s hometown of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the song is at once a defiant declaration of the city’s resilience in the face of adversity and a mournful elegy for the resultant loss and devastation the storm left behind.