ike the late December rush of big, serious, Oscar-hyped films, the mix-tape circuit hits a weird little fever pitch in summer, trying to rev up whirlpools of cross-regional hype for the must-push albums of the early fall. This onslaught generally makes quality a blurred companion to timing, but thankfully we’ve got DJ Drama, a contemporary stamp of mix-tape craftsmanship, helming Dedication 2.
The album is the second in a mix-tape series with the ever-evolving, Oedipal djinn Lil’ Wayne. His Cash Money shtick behind him, Wayne has gone though a tight cycle of mutation recently—the dying CM fires on 2002’s 500 Degreez, cackling, witty, 8-bit bloodbaths on 2004’s Tha Carter, and the best of the bunch, last year’s feral, image-driven Tha Carter II—that’s made his increasing demands for a place at the table with Jay-Z, Marshall Mathers-era Eminem, Ghostface, and Mos Def seem cautiously reasonable.
In fact, it seems safe to say that no one else in recent memory has categorically improved their rapping ability at the rate and to the quality of Lil’ Wayne. When he emits the violent imp shriek, the too-wizened-for-his-age moan, or the dazed, soft mutter of “Carter…Caster…Carter” there’s never any doubt about Wayne’s exact tone at any single moment. He pinpoints emotions, voices, and personas. He switches from vengeful to wise to playful to repentant in one intoned crack of his Delta blues voice box.
That’s a huge weapon for Wayne, and on the hatchet job sequencing common (and perhaps necessary) to any mix-tape, neither he nor Dedication 2 nor the consistently superb DJ Drama (who we can now forgive for ruining T.I.’s video with UGK, “Front Back”), lose a speck of their momentum. Even with the requisite posse introductions—Wayne’s already got two bland protégés, Currency and Mac Maine—and the quiet pleasure of hearing Wayne digest the latest round of beat-first, lyrics-maybe club short-ribs (Shawnna’s “Gettin’ Some,” Dem Franchize Boyz’s “Oh I Think Dey Like Me,” Three 6 Mafia’s “Poppin My Collar”), the mix-tape keeps its argument sharp: Remember how satisfying and caustic Tha Carter II could be and lick your chops for Tha Carter III, due just in time for your blog’s year end list.
The obsession with predatory animals and hyper-extended mob talk still dominate. But Wayne also makes you laugh about shooting snitches in their extremities right after he says “Howdy Do!” and redefines himself with weird glee, “I’m sick / I don’t spit, I vomit / Got it? / One egg short of the omelet.”
“Sportscenter” has a beat made entirely of a found-sound loop of tennis volleys and petite grunts from the competitors. Wayne rides the song side-saddle, putting hard consonants on the ball’s pings ten bars before flipping back to a breathless, multi-syllabic slide, “leprosy…pepper spray…chopper right next to me.”
Towards the end of Dedication, on “No Other,” the torrent of hand bells and the odd, mirror-image presence of Juelz Santana still have to play second chair to Weezy’s aural puzzles: “They either gon’ respect me or / We are burnin’ them bitches like a cigar, / Pump, put a hump in your back, and call you Igor, / War, this shit is harder than ya’ll / We got that cocaine rice, call it Condolezza. / Huh, fuck with me chump? I’ll rock ya teacup!”
Wayne digests the lines, halting on emphasized syllables or syllable pairs and putting together carving slant rhymes—the “er” in “either” fleshed out and said like short-“o” in “gon’” and “or”—that don’t simply play within their own line, but get dropped and eventually reappear and repeat almost virally—the digested, malleable “o” comes back again a line later in “Igor” and on the drawn out accent on the “a” in “war.” It’s a technical achievement, but, more importantly, he’s convincing in his emotions. The effort and mood are allowed to take primacy over the technical fireworks. His child solider juvenilia—calling people Igor and Buster, rocking teacups—rings true with charm. Weezy sounds constantly amused by the order and choice of words he puts together.
Spirited, entertaining images (“I shoot at the moon / And get my howl on”), “Cannon” and its all-you-can-eat drum n’ horn storm, and even another morphine shot of post-Katrina rage (“Georgia…Bush”), make Dedication a unique spark plug: a third of the pleasure comes from the disc itself; another third from appraising Weezy’s ongoing climb; and the final, most elusive slice of pleasure comes from simply waiting to hear what happens next on Wayne’s wild ride.
Buy Dedication 2 here.