Here is the first, and WAY overdue blog post by the legendary TX Cleaver. This is a great post and I really hope he finds time to contribute again. Seriously, enjoy this guy's intellect and humor - one of a kind.
I should have been more excited about two records being released. Jay-Z and Kanye - Watch the Throne, and Lil Wayne - The Carter IV. The Carter boys going at it again.
I’ve been a fan of Shawn Carter and Dwayne Carter longer than most of their current audience has been out of grade school. Years ago, I’d have been at the record store the minute they unlocked the door. Or I guess these days just WAITING to click “download” or whatever-the-hell iTunes does now.
Quick background -- Weezy F Baby and I go back to the late ‘90’s. He was one of the Hot Boys on the absolute classic Guerrilla Warfare. Ranking the rap albums that have gotten the most spins for me, the Hot Boys are in the top 5. Another top 5? Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt. The other top 5 in no particular order - Outkast classic “Aquemini”, Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP, and Mystikal’s “Unpredictable.”
Was I excited for either new album? No, I really wasn’t, for various reasons. I’ve owned every Lil Wayne album and most of his mixtapes, and none are truly great, from start to finish. Each has moments, and I’ve bumped them a million times (not Rebirth...no.) But rarely does one record just blow me away. After figuring out the auto-fastforward tracks, he puts out great EPs.
Jay-Z and Kanye...ahhh, where to begin? One is a gifted lyricist and self-brander. The other is a gifted, visionary producer who insists on rapping in the complainiest of ways, and has since decided to take himself too seriously. Hova was a beast for a long time, and Kanye was remarkable when he was hungry. Now, both have read their headlines to the point they’re almost caricatures of themselves. Of course, they’re both attracting both the hipster crowd AND the less-informed amongst hip hop head wannabes. The lead up to release of Watch the Throne added to my main fear for them -- that these two had some synergistic narcissism going on that could cripple their record. Did it happen? Well...
Quick disclaimer: it takes me WEEKS before I really get to lyrical content in any album. I’m mainly about the hooks, the cadence of the rapping, and some phrases here and there. I don’t fixate on every word. That takes time. So keep that in mind...
Thanks to the modern wonder of the world that is Spotify, I can listen and NOT pay upfront. I don’t like music pirating, except when an artist can’t be bothered to put more than one decent song on an album (sorry if that offends you Slim Thugga muthafugga.) So WTT and The Carter IV made it to Spotify.
Moving on to Watch the Throne...what to make of it. LET’S GO TRACK BY TRACK, SHALL WE?
“No Church in the Wild” pumps through my headphones and I think, “Uh oh, Hova and Kanye may have created an instant classic.” Thoroughly optimistic at this point. Tight, innovative hook, Hov sounds focused. Paced. Me likey. Thinking “I’m buying this record tomorrow.” Great start.
“Lift Off” - And....my perception starts to change. Wait, is that Eddie Van Halen on the keys? Oh Lord, here’s Beyonce. Damn settle down girl. She’s belting this chorus out like she’s trying to drown out Aretha and them 3-5-7 Bitches (RIP Biggie.) Oh no, and now Kanye. This track is frenetic and awful.
“Ni**as in Paris” - wait, WTF do these * stand for? With my H-Town roots, I’m thinking it’s “Ninfas in Paris.” Uh oh, solid beat. Hova first, that’s good. And.....the catchphrase “that shit cray.” Nope. And now Hova’s stuck talking about his Audemars Piguet watch. Screw this one. Not a good track. Recycled Hova lines + Kanye + timepiece raps. Not good enough. Tight enough beat too, but just so damn irrelevant lyrically + “that shit cray.” Amateur hour.
“Otis” - I like Otis Redding. This has potential. Can’t go wrong sampling Otis, can you? Oh hell NO! Yes, you can, apparently. Putting Otis on repeat, doing a Mel Torme impersonation in the process, and then Hov has the nerve to talk about swagger. Holy shit, how did they screw this one up? I can hardly listen. Again, frenetic, trying too hard. This isn’t going well.
“Gotta Have It” - I like the build of the hook. Well done, Kanye. Dang, and he’s rapping well? Again with the timepieces Hov? Really? Stop rapping about your watches (Franck Muller is a slick reference.) I’ll let it slide, since WTT’s audience will have absolutely no idea what Hov is talking about with watch brands. Damn this track is strong. Make it a B side for No Church in the Wild.
“New Day” - Is that Autotune I hear? In bunches? Smooth track, but whack.
“That’s My Bitch” - How can they type out “bitch” but not “Ninfas?” What a weird world. I like the hook on this one, LOVE the drum beat (even though all percussion here has been sampled about a billion times.) Like the way this song progresses. Easy enough listen. Pretty good for a record filler track.
“Welcome to the Jungle” - Some Timbaland/Scott Storch influence here. Again, another good-progressing song. Solid. Not great, but I like it overall. This would be a good album intro song.
“Who Gon Stop Me” - Just WAY overproduced. Don’t like it, but stripped down (and without megaphoneKanye) it could be OK. And Hov’s talking more drivel again. Track just doesn’t work -- ends up boring. Maybe the signature song of this record.
“Murder to Excellence” - Oooohhh....here we go. Reminding me of a Talib Kweli hook at first. Yep, I like this one. And just like that, Hov jumps on the beat like a moving skateboard. Hov at his best...this is nice. Hot DAMN this track is good! This has the same feel of 99 Problems -- one listen, and you know the hook is genius.
Starts with dedication to Danroy Henry (young man killed by police.) But wait, DAMMIT JAY and KANYE, stop recycling damn lyrics, this track is crazy. Make it a classic. Just a tad more work and this one goes in the all-time great file. Instead, Kanye has quality lines, but Hov seems to just waste bar after bar as the song goes on (though “I arrived on the day Fred Hampton died” is slick.) Overall though, Hov sounds complacent. Making matters worse, they go to more braggadocio in the second half of the song. This one frustrates me. I hope some youngun rips the hook for a mixtape.
In fact, I’d like the Hot Boys to re-unite to murder this track (NO WAIT, NOT LITERALLY TURK!) If you didn’t catch that reference, Turk is in the Federal pen on an attempted murder rap. Pretty sure BG and Juvie are available though.
Seriously, this is an elite-level hook. It fits together seamlessly. Head nodder. Lends itself to strong lyrical content. Assuming we can’t get the Hot Boys on this, I’ll settle for Prodigy (from Mobb Deep) and Jadakiss to just jack this track and spray its blood everywhere. Tell me they wouldn’t.
“Made in America” - Nope, don’t get this one. And yes, I know the names he’s referencing, just don’t really have much to get excited about, which is unfortunate because the lyrics are some of the better ones on the record.
“Why I love You” - How the hell did Hov let this one on here??? This has Kanye Gaga written all over it. Turrrrrible. This song is probably going to be HUGE in Great Britain, where they’ll turn off Robbie Williams long enough to hear this one. Coldplay appreciates this song too. Not the note you want to end on.
More thoughts -- I’m going to save the sermonizing about the vacuous lyrical content on this record. Of course that plays a big role in whether the record is good, but am I telling you anything new? Do people REALLY want to hear just how absurdly rich you are? Is it entertaining to hear lyrics like you’re reading a Robb Report? Isn’t it just a bit much to flaunt exorbitant wealth (not talent + maybe a car or two, like old school MCs) to the people that are bankrolling that? Do Wal-Mart execs pipe in “I’m RICH BITCH” on the in-store stereo? Or do we read books by Bilderbergians about how to make unGodly sums of money? Actually, I think some people do. They’re idiots too.
Well damn, I think I just sermonized some. This album is just a major letdown, intellectually lazy lyrically, and just kinda boring. Just like the shoe-gazing hipsters love it though, I guess. Death Cab For Jay-Z. Why do I still care about this stuff?
Will the other Carter save us?? We shall see...
Onto Lil Wayne’s fourth effort in the quadrilogy The Carter. Let’s get it:
“Intro” - uh oh. Did a stint upstate and THIS is all he has to say? Not looking good. Feels like he’s mailing this one in...
“Blunt Blowin” - not so fast!! Solid hook, great chorus (“Blunt blowin, Polo drawers showin’) Guessing that wasn’t the case in prison, if Lock Up on MSNBC is to be believed. Good track though, he’s coming back on this one.
“MegaMan” - CLASSIC Lil Wayne. Not a great track, but he sits down on a good-enough beat. This track made me think of his Lights Out record for some reason. Also has a mixtape feel, which I like. Nothing groundbreaking but I’ll listen.
“6 Foot 7 Foot” - I do NOT want to like this cut, but I catch myself humming it later. Mixtape kinda track, which is where Weezy is at his best. Nothing lyrically great, but his cadence is just right. Sick beat. And wait, Cory Gunz? Related to Peter Gunz? It’s his SON?? Of Peter Gunz and Lord Tariq?? I know about three of y’all have heard of them, but this kid’s got pedigree. How did I not connect this when I first heard about him (I think as part of “A Milli”)??
“Nightmares of the Bottom” - another CLASSIC Lil Wayne. Record filler, weed-smoking song. Blah. Moving on.
“She Will” -- the absolute stunner of this album. I cannot stand Drake. Do. Not. Like. I don’t get his style, his too-cool-for-everything act, and hipster tendencies. But this song is crazy good. The hook creates a phenomenal atmosphere, Weezy sounds great, and the chorus is right for this track. This track simply should not work this well. I cannot get enough of this one.
“How to Hate” - This songs explains everything you need to know about how to hate. It’s T-Pain going batshit crazy on Auto-Tune, which is not good. This song is so bad. In fact...
This song is arguably worse than that Bruno Mars atrocity on the Bad Meets Evil record. Who the hell invented Auto-Tune? I say we add him to the Axis of Evil. No, he IS the Axis of Evil. Iran never nuked me with auto-tune. In fact, I think Iran may use auto-tune as part of their own rendition programs. Dammit this is so bad. Wayne even has some decent verses but it doesn’t matter. Auto-tune murdered this one. The only acceptable use of Auto-Tune and/or T-Pain is “I’m on a Boat” by Lonely Island. Yes, that song is in my top 50 all time songs.
Let’s move on before I throw this Spotify-having Acer piece of crap laptop through my crappy drywall.
“Interlude” - What the H!?!? An “interlude” with Tech N9ne!??! YES YES YES! Well played Weezy. Couldn’t be happier about this. Tech even references how these punk ass listeners probably haven’t heard of him. Oh indeed. Real rap.
“John” -- Classic menacing fight music. I like it. If Rick Ross hadn’t been an ex-CO (jail corrections officer, honky readers), this track would have some credibility. It also sounds like they collaborated via e-mail or maybe Skype. Nevertheless I like this one.
“Abortion” - this is the kind of song when Weezy starts thinking he’s got some Kanye in him, which I don’t like. But overall I still like this one. Good lyrical flow, good enough hook. This is the typical Carter track. Not great, but listenable.
“So Special” - Here’s a tip - get John Legend on your track and it’s going to be just fine. I’m pretty sure of two things if I was a woman... 1) I’d be a stripper for probably too long, 2) I’d dream of John Legend. Damn, this dude can sing. I hear a hint of Auto-tune, but Legend drowns it out. I like this song. A lot.
The funny thing is that John Legend is singing this one like Beyonce sang on WTT. Just belting it out. But Legend’s style just fits better and is less obnoxious. And strained. Hot damn, why didn’t he sing at my wedding??
“How to Love” -- Oh no, this is the track. The Carter invariably has one song that absolutely should have never been heard. This is it. I get it Weezy...How to Hate, How to Love. Yea, just brilliant. Record decent tracks next time. Let’s move on.
“President Carter” -- Holy shit, I love this song. Love the track in the background, love the sampling of Jimmy Carter getting sworn in. Perfect track for Weezy’s style. I also like pondering how Lil Wayne would be a better President than the first Carter. REALLY like this track. I’m not overthinking this one.
“It’s Good” -- Anytime I see Jadakiss on the guest list, I get giddy. Jadakiss is probably the best voice of all-time in rap. Yes, I said it. The tone/delivery is just crazy. Google his freestyles if you don’t believe me. “The headphones is on FIRE this time around Stylez.” But I digress...
This track is complicated for me. Jada’s lines are just OK, the track is good not great, and then it’s Wayne and Drake. I don’t know what to make of this. Drake was on FIRE on this track, and Wayne kinda mailed it in. This track concerns me more than anything. Maybe more on this later.
“Outro” - Look, lineup Nas, Bun B, Busta AND Shyne, and the track’s going to be just fine. And this one is OK. What sticks out to me is Shyne. WTF happened to him? His raspy voice is now just kinda weird. “Hustla....bad muthafucka” Shyne’s classic line that stands up 15 years later. Do you hear him here??? Dang, this shouldn’t have happened.
“I Like the View” - Clearly Wayne thought this was filler. No more time spent from me either.
“Mirror” -- The SHOWSTOPPER of the album. And it features that gal Bruno Mars. This track is insanely understated. Hear that background? Haunting. Goes with the lyrics too. Then Bruno Mars belts out the absolute angelic (yea, angelic. I said it) chorus. Simply a gorgeous song.
So how is this one so awesome, while he also was in on the worst rap song ever? It’s the message, more than anything. You can’t be crooning like a sissy wankster over some damned cigarette lighters, but you CAN when the subject is yourself. This isn’t complicated. Why am I explaining this? Just listen to the damn thing yourself, and if you think I’m just a big softy, remember “Ante Up” is my occasional theme song.
“Two Shots” - more filler. How the hell does Wayne fill up a mixtape with great verses and then puts this kinda crap on his own albums? Screw it, who cares.
So what to make of this album? Typical Lil Wayne record. Some solid/great tracks, some filler, and a couple utter wastes of time. I liked Wayne better when he was repping the CBD, not YMCMB. Don’t believe me, just revisit Hot Boys. However, unlike the self-professed Royal Duo above, Weezy doesn’t succumb to delusions of grandeur any more than a rapper should.
Remember to follow the Cleaver on twitter. Thanks for contributing, man...you killed this shit.