The Carter II
il Wayne is one of the most exciting rappers right now, but he veers dangerously close to self-mythologizing self-promotion, losing the delicate balance of skills and advertising. Why is Jay-Z so boring in 2005? Because he lost any sort of attachment to the things that gave him a legit claim to ‘best rapper alive’ status, and when he started talking about it, it no longer seemed real; he was just a myth, a giant blown-up illusion of magnificence, and imitation of significance.
But it doesn’t HAVE to be that way, and that’s why The Carter II is so good. Wayne’s last album had a few advantages over this one: pre-Cash Money meltdown, Mannie on the boards and the surprise of Wayne’s measured, careful superstar cadence. And there was the first time you heard “Go DJ” in a crowded club and everyone immediately started chanting, descending bleeps and Wayne’s sudden invasion of the spotlight, the way he ended The Carter with the vibrancy of “Ain’t that a Bitch,” exploding out of the gate with hungry abandon, obliterating haters with the creaky vocals and the sudden spark of emergent creativity.
So this album takes another step towards Jay-Z’s respectable and careful canonizing by consolidating the gains made on the first one. Yet it retains a vital spark; none of the trendy guest stars that made every major label tracklist in 2005 look interchangeable—not even Bun-B! The only guest verses are from Kurupt (unfashionable and underrated in 2005) and Baby (of course) and the beats are all understated southern funk. The best tracks are still revelatory, and they retain The Carter’s edge, like “Money on My Mind,” cold production with bleak stabbing horns, an embrace of capital-by-any-means that concludes “pistol on my lap on my way to the money.” And there’s “Fireman,” an alarm klaxon club track that doesn’t shock like “Go DJ” but sears club floors with snow-melting sirens that pierce puffy goose down coat-crowded discotheques.
In contrast with Wayne’s early career as one-fourth of the Hot Boys and a key player in the Mannie bounce explosion, Wayne’s recent career as rapper-auteur, as an artist whose personality decides whether a recording lives or dies, The Carter II offers the rapper a chance to stretch out. His love song “Grown Man” has a smooth 1980s R&B sheen, the kind of song that couldn’t have existed when he was in his mid-teens; it just wouldn’t have been believable, and this is not only believable but charming, polite, honest, expressive. And “Receipt,” soul-sampling love! For Trina? The best track might be “Shooter” which blends “Freaks of the Industry” and “Mass Appeal,” and slows it to a swaggering spaghetti Western.
“Best Rapper Alive” might be true but making the claim over roaring guitars and dramatic chorale is a little cheese—or it would be if those claims weren’t so hard to argue with. The real reason The Carter II is so great is that 2005 is the year of the personality, the year when no single producer seemed to have taken hold of the auteur label, where Young Jeezy and Mike Jones and Paul Wall are THE news, rappers before beats. Where the most celebrated ‘new’ producer is Salih Williams, a beatmaker who is more mercenary, more craft-conscious than artiste. What does it mean when an album drops that doesn’t feature Akon, Young Jeezy or Bun-B? It means that Lil Wayne is going to take center stage with one of the year’s best releases, not because of a wave of Mannie Fresh bounce tracks from the N.O. but because he has developed an entire persona, an aura, a rap creation that seems fully-developed and fascinating, and all he needs are the bare “snares and bass” over which he expresses his love.
Reviewed by: David Drake
Reviewed on: 2005-12-06