DAR Hip Hop: The Importance Of Lil Wayne's Tha Carter Series

By @TrueGodImmortal

Once upon a time, Lil' Wayne was one of my favorite rappers. For me, the legend of Wayne didn't start in the 2000s, but in the mid 90's through his time with the Hot Boys in the initial Cash Money run. Wayne was my second favorite MC from Cash Money, right behind Juvenile and slightly above B.G. because he was the youngest and somehow myself and my boy Apollo both related to Wayne and his music. Wayne was actually a pioneer in some neighborhoods as he got popular, specifically mine, as I began to see the cornrows and white tee look with the bandana wrapped around the wrist look that Wayne utilized often in the music videos. As the Cash Money dynasty began to show cracks in their armor, it was an interesting time in music. Wayne was never see as the "guy" in Cash Money and many would place him below Juvenile and B.G. at the time because of his age and his voice, which at the time was treated like a negative in some moments. Still, Wayne would continue making music, eventually shocking the world with a very concise and enjoyable debut solo album Tha Block Is Hot, which sold over 1.5 million copies and positioned Wayne as the next star up in Cash Money.

By the time his next album Lights Out dropped in 2000, literally just one year later, there were so many uncertain notions about Cash Money that it looked as if the story of Wayne might come to a halt much quicker than expected. We had witnessed other labels and their artists falter after experiencing such highs, so why would Wayne and Cash Money be exempt from the fall? The truth was, they were not exempt from the fall, and by the time 2001 was coming to an end, Wayne stood as the lone Hot Boy on the label. Long before we heard Wayne claim any gang, wear dreads, or have a following as the second greatest mixtape artist in hip hop (50 Cent will always be no. 1), fans saw him go through the doubt, the youth, the struggle, and most of all, the growth. He wouldn't see much success on his 2002 album 500 Degreez, which was perceived as a shot to former labelmate Juvenile, but in the spirit of keeping Cash Money going, Big Tymers would sell a million plus copies and Birdman would take the plunge as a solo artist (why I don't know) and end up almost going platinum himself. It was a strange moment in Cash Money history. As 2002 was closing, Wayne was the lowest selling star on the label. Birdman's solo endeavor and the newest Big Tymers album did exactly what he couldn't do and that was put the label on their back and earn some chips and record sales. As 2003 began, I remember wondering what was going on with Wayne, even though he had made appearances on Birdman's album (but was conspicuously absent from the Big Tymers album). I would hear some of the Sqad Up mixtapes during the year and instantly begin to feel as though Wayne was setting up for something big. I would have never guessed that he would have such a breakthrough like he did, but something was brewing.

Juvenile returned to Cash Money, Big Tymers released another album, and yet, Wayne was still quiet. Then, very very early in 2004, I heard a song that captured my attention because it had the sound of that classic Cash Money. Mannie Fresh would be the producer and the feature on the track, which was titled "Bring It Back". It was at that moment that we began hearing Wayne talk about himself as the best rapper alive (since the best rapper retired, meaning Jay-Z.... his words not mine) and becoming even more boastful in his raps. I was actually interested in hearing what Wayne had to say on his next album and sure enough, when it was released, I went to the store and bought it. I was the only one of my friends who actually cared enough to buy it. I purchased his newest album alongside my copy of Lloyd Banks' classic The Hunger For More, and I remember the first time I listened to the album. It started off with a booming instrumental and some concise and well-put together rhymes, and Wayne instantly seemed more comfortable as a MC than he ever had before. As I listened to the album, I found myself barely skipping anything, enjoying the Mannie Fresh production, and thinking to myself that this is an album that so many people are going to sleep on because they wrote Wayne off. That feeling is still a funny one to reflect on, because as a longtime Cash Money fan, I knew Wayne's potential and watched him grow as a rapper and when his 2004 album started to gain some traction, I had no idea it would be the start of the album series that would forever change his life and career. Since 2004, Wayne has resided in a space that very few have ever been in: superstardom. As the release of Tha Carter 5 hits and many fans who only know Wayne from Tha Carter 3 on discuss the album as a classic, legendary, or trash, I felt it was only right for a longtime fan of Wayne to take a look at the album series that changed his career and see how good it really is as a series, and where Wayne may have lost a step musically. Let's take a look at Tha Carter series.

*Tha Carter (2004)

-So, you'll see a ton of Wayne articles this week, mostly about just Carter 5, or maybe even Carter 3, which turned 10 this year, but to me, the first Carter album is the best. I don't say that just based off nostalgia, I say that based off the flow of the album, the production, the consistency in his lyrics and flow, and just the overall vibe of the album. Many point to Carter 2 as the pinnacle of Wayne and I agree that was his biggest point in terms of consistency and the change in his career, but something about Wayne over the evolving production of Mannie Fresh was too much to pass up. Wayne was hungry, possibly feeling that people had wrote him off, and he used every beat he touched to prove a point. There were pretty much no features on this album from a rapping perspective, unless you count the Birdman verses, which you should probably never do anyways. Wayne handles 21 tracks by himself and dominates the production on amazing rhyme fests like the excellent "BM J.R.", the intro "Walk In", the breezy "On My Own", and the booming "Only Way", while also giving us catchy tunes and hits like the breakthrough single for the album "Go D.J.", the aforementioned "Bring It Back", the slept on but hilarious "Hoes" with Fresh, and a personal favorite, the Jazze Pha assisted "Earthquake". Tha Carter would go platinum and instantly put more eyes on Wayne as a result and quietly bring Cash Money back..... just before it suffered yet another important roster departure. Regardless, Lil' Wayne had arrived AGAIN and this time, hip hop would never shun him again.

*Tha Carter II (2005)

-Is it rather interesting honestly when I look back at this album. I know so many people consider this to be Wayne's best album and truthfully, I see why. In terms of visibility, style, momentum, and all around excitement, Wayne was at his peak and in his prime. He was still hungry from the slight taste of success he experienced with the first Carter album, but still aware that he hadn't quite scratched the surface of what he could accomplished. With Mannie Fresh leaving behind Cash Money and Wayne now forced to go a different route, he would change the perception of himself as an artist infinitely during this time. He would release a slew of mixtapes, including The Suffix and the famed Dedication, and he would even inspire interest from Def Jam and The Roc following his rise and success. For Wayne, the world was essentially his. Reeling from the losses Hurricane Katrina got hit with and everything in between, Wayne relocated to Miami and got ready to release the second installment of the album series that changed everything for him. This is the album where he grew. There was clear Dipset influence in his style and music at the time, and Wayne was also much more comfortable than he was on the first one. His confidence and flow were at the highest point, and Wayne would seize the moment, working with producers like The Runnerz, The Heatmakerz, Deezle, Cool & Dre, and more. Wayne would be in a groove in this album, and he starts off with one of his best, if not the best song in his catalog, the soulful tinged "Tha Mobb". Other highlights on the album would include the classic intro of sorts, "Fly In", alongside the dope "Money On My Mind", "Feel Me", "Carter II", "Hustler Muzik", and another favorite of mine "Receipt". However, where I could find nothing really wrong with the first Carter, some of the songs here do leave me slightly disappointed as a listener. While I can deal with "Lock And Load", "Oh No", "Grown Man", and some of the middle of the road songs on the album, there are the very few songs that don't grab me at all like the slightly annoying "Fireman" (sure it was a big hit, the song is still pretty annoying and not a great first single), the laughable "Weezy Baby", and the honestly boring "Best Rapper Alive". While I'm sure many fans loved those songs, for me, they added nothing to an already solid album and almost took away from it a little to be honest. Still, for me, Carter 2 is probably the most important album in shaping the superstardom run of Wayne's career, as he would take off even more with this album, reaching double platinum heights and never really looking back. Is Carter 2 really Wayne's best album? I'm sure those who think it is are reading this and thinking that I'm crazy, but for me, it is the second best. Before the hype arrived, before the new fans showed up, before the new wave, and before the huge sales came in, Wayne was at his most hungry on the first Carter and his most comfortable on the second Carter. Those two albums are the game changers for his career and honestly his legacy. Carter 2 to me is his second best album period and the second best album in this series. If you disagree, by all means, hold your opinion for someone who cares. Because I don't.

*Tha Carter III (2008)

-Chances are, if you discovered the talent of Wayne during 2006-2007, you might not have the same affinity that I do for his earlier work and his music prior to that. Yes, I loved the Sqad Up mixtapes, I listened to The Prefix and The Suffix, and I think his best mixtape run consists of those two tapes, Dedication, Dedication 2, and ends at Da Drought 3. When Wayne was in his prime, he was in his prime. He was consistent, cranking out songs at a surefire pace and with high quality at that. So, when it came time to release another solo album, as a fan, I was extremely excited. There were delays to Tha Carter 3, most of which I attribute to a leak of songs he had initially planned, and because of that, I will forever feel cheated as a listener at least out of what could have been the best Wayne album period. I'll never forget at the time, there was a lot surrounding Cash Money. Birdman was releasing solo albums still, they were expanding their brand a little bit, Young Money was now a real thing, and the climate had changed so much from when Wayne released Carter 2. The climate had changed from when Wayne and Birdman even released Like Father, Like Son. In the wake of the 50 vs Kanye sales battle, numbers had lost a bit of the luster it used to have for most, but for superstars and new age fans, it began to mean so much. When Tha Carter 3 arrived in June 2008, a little over 10 years ago today, I was intrigued by it entirely. I had listened to and enjoyed the few songs on the EP The Leak released a few months prior and was a huge fan of Da Drought Is Over 2 mixtape, which was labeled as the Carter 3 sessions. That mixtape is on par with the Dedication 2 and Drought 3s of the world honestly. I often wonder how Carter 3 would have been received had it featured "Did It Before", "World Of Fantasy", "I'm Me", "Scarface", "I Ain't Got Time", and "I Feel Like Dying", instead of disposable sounds like "Got Money", "Lollipop", and "Phone Home". Sure, "Got Money" and "Lollipop" are huge singles and perhaps one could have kept "Lollipop" for that reason only, but the song itself is not an enjoyable listen. However, a much better listen and even better single was the classic "A Milli", which is a song that likely will have Wayne's jersey hanging from the rafters when it is all said and done. That aside, I always felt Carter 3 was a disappointment when compared to the first two and even compared to the leaked sessions mixtape. There was something missing from it as an ALBUM quality wise, but with newfound popularity and new fans comes an aura of invincibility that superstars can somehow utilize at every turn. Kanye does it. 50 did it. Jay-Z did it. Wayne did it. No matter what a superstar makes, as long as it is successful, there will be undying loyalists there to support and tell you that it is great. For me, Carter 3 was a good listen and a decent album, showing highlights like "Mr. Carter" with one of his biggest influences Jay-Z, the booming Alchemist produced "You Ain't Got Nuthin" with Fabolous and Juelz Santana, the closing track "Dontgetit", the slept on "Playing With Fire", the should have been a single "Comfortable" featuring Babyface and produced by Kanye, and of course, another Kanye produced track "Let The Beat Build". 1 million copies sold in the first week or not, 4 million copies sold total in the United States or not, Carter 3 is only considered a classic by some for the sales and impact more than the music itself. When the album initially released, it was met with mostly good fanfare, with a few mixed reviews from some, including this writer, feeling like Wayne played it safe on this album in his own way. Still, Carter 3 is a moment in time and a huge win for Wayne and success for hip hop. It just isn't the best album in his discography or in this album series.

*Tha Carter IV (2011)

-By this time, I was admittedly no longer the diehard fan of Wayne I once was. I still checked for his music, as always, but it wasn't really anything special. Sometimes, when an artist you support for so long starts to lose their touch, you start to wonder to yourself if they were ever really that great in the first place, or perhaps you were caught up in the hype. For me, with Wayne, I could reflect for a moment on the time I heard him steal the show from Juvenile on Tha G-Code, the time that he provided the best verse on the Big Tymers album "I Got That Work", or even the time he took the world by storm with the first Carter album. I personally wasn't a huge fan of Dedication 3 and while No Ceilings was a solid mixtape, it still somehow paled in comparison to the previous releases that truly defined his legacy. Now, once again, fans who discovered his music later probably love both of those mixtapes, and they have the right to do so. Their perspective is different and that's fine. For me, both of those mixtapes were good, but nothing truly classic. I will say No Ceilings is a very important mixtape, but by the time we reached Carter 4, so many fans had honestly felt Wayne was losing his touch. He had a really strange moment with the awful Rock/Autotune single album Rebirth, which should have never existed, he would release the I Am Not A Human Being album while in prison, and then return with a vengeance with the decent Sorry 4 The Wait mixtape before finally giving the world the fourth installment of Tha Carter. Wayne re-recorded the entire album once out of jail, and perhaps he should have kept the songs we never heard or haven't heard. Let me just state this: Tha Carter IV is not a bad album. It is not. It is also not a great album or even a good album. It feels uninspired, slightly lazy, and shows Wayne going in a different direction than perhaps most of his fans want him to. The album has tracks like the honestly annoying "How To Love", which features more offkey bad singing fron Wayne with his new favorite partner Autotune very much in tow, as well as the A Milli reject cousin "6 Foot, 7 Foot", and the mediocre "Abortion" and "MegaMan". However, I do enjoy "Blunt Blowin", "Nightmares Of The Bottom", "John", and "It's Good", which shows Wayne taking aim at Jay-Z and Beyonce in a now infamous verse. Still, Carter 4 hints at what could have been if Wayne was a little more focused. The album has highlights and down moments, but it lacked the hit appeal that made Carter 3 so relevant, and despite selling over 2.5 million copies total, it lacked the quality that made the first two Carter albums so special.

*Tha Carter V (2018)

-Seven years. A seven year wait. Birdman and Wayne beefed, the Hot Boys made up, Turk came back to Cash Money briefly, B.G. went back to jail, Juvenile returned to Cash Money briefly, Young Thug and Wayne beefed, Wayne and 2 Chainz released an album, Wayne attempted to recapture the feeling with several mixtapes including Dedication 4, 5, and 6 (which was actually pretty good), and this all went down in the 7 years that it took for another Carter album to come out. I mean, we got IANAHB 2, Dedication 4-6, Sorry 4 The Wait 2, Free Weezy Album, T-Wayne, No Ceilings 2, and more in those 7 years, yet nothing could truly capture the magic that the Carter albums can. That much has been proven in the 24 hours or so since the fifth installment has been released. Some have been calling the album a classic, others say it is underwhelming, some say it is good, so what is the answer? Well, the answer is whatever you think it is. Music is subjective, and despite this strange culture we have of trying to force people to like the music you like, not everyone was a Lil' Wayne fan. Hell, even you, the reader who discovered Wayne shortly before Carter 3, at one point you weren't a fan either, and that's fine. For diehard Wayne fans, Carter 5 is most of what they wanted to hear. For those who are indifferent or more balanced in their listening, Carter 5 provides more highs than Carter 4 at least, and at 23 songs long, it invokes the spirit of the first two Carters in album length sort of. Still, Wayne provides some great music like the solid "Dedicate", the crowd favorite so far "Uproar", the soulful and raw "Can't Be Broken", the honest "Open Letter", the slightly overhyped "Mona Lisa" with Kendrick Lamar, the Zaytoven produced "Problems", the surprisingly solid "Dope Niggaz" with Snoop, the smooth "What About Me", the soulful "Demon", and the album ending "Let It All Work Out". These are the highlights, but the tracks like the pointless "Famous", the horrible Nicki Minaj featured "Dark Side Of The Moon", the boring "Took His Time", and the cliche by the numbers "Open Safe", and the confusing Mannie Fresh produced and Mack Maine and Ashanti featured "Start This Shit Off Right", really miss the mark. The Mannie Fresh produced track had potential, but you can tell it was recorded years ago and Ashanti's inclusion is actually rather random and adds nothing to the song. Still, despite the few mishaps, Wayne makes what could be considered a triumphant return with an album that has more highlights than misses, but still never comes close to the greatness of the first two albums or his prime mixtape run. Honestly, that's fine. Wayne isn't in his prime anymore, but he is still talented, a MC that conquered the highest mountain and now looks to remind us all why we loved his music to begin with. While I see very little flashes of the Wayne I first listened to, perhaps that is a good thing. Perhaps the evolution of Wayne isn't a bad thing after all. Maybe Wayne's growth as an artist will lead him to new depths that will make Tha Carter 6 a classic. Maybe there will be no Carter 6. Maybe there will be a Dedication 7. Maybe, just maybe, Wayne comes with Da Drought 4. No matter what he does next, with the release of Carter 5, a victory under his belt in his legal nonsense with Birdman, and fans clamoring for his new music like it is 2007 again, maybe Wayne has it figured it out after all. Welcome back, Mr. Carter, though you never really left.



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