ur issues are rooted in tradition. Lil’ Wayne will never produce Illmatic, Reasonable Doubt, or Ready To Die. He is not cerebral. As a youngster, he threw his head back and forth and squawked “A-wuh-wuh-wuh-what!” while grown men paraded in identical white sports cars. Even now, in that posturing twenty-something glow, he giggles before he hops aboard a hijacked mixtape beat.
And so arrives Da Drought 3, another one of those forward-thinking mixtapes. And, like Lil’ Weezyana and Dedication 2 before it, it’s a bold, near-bottom feeding monster, uncovering pop songs muddled in Billboard twilight and Clear Channel radio play (Lil’ Boosie’s “Zoom,” Beyonce’s “Upgrade U,” DJ Unk’s “Walk It Out”) and trying, trying with Wayne’s kinetic, unrehearsed explosions of syllables and Mad-Lib/thesaurus splatter, to turn near-detritus into found art.
Wielding an x-ray vision for the natural staves in a line of English rap, Wayne doesn’t just punch out syllables with assonance and simile, he uses sound to his benefit. He manages seamless, unexpected connections—linking “rest in peace, Apollo Creed” and “I’m a monster / Every day is Halloween” not as end lines, but as phrases buried in each line’s middle—even when his subject matter falls back on those ruddy gangster clichés he so loves.
Which brings us back to tradition. We keep wishing for Wayne to be cerebral and deliberate because that is how we imagine the history of “our” hip-hop. We see one past (KRS, Chuck D) as the past, conveniently neglecting the fact that, well, for the first decade or so, hip-hop lived and died on sonics and poetics, not rhetoric.
Open your ears. Wayne has become, before us, and on this very mix tape, an abstract expressionist, flinging the true genetics of poetry around like globs of primary color, turning gangster tropes and dissociative tendencies into rap Rothkos and Motherwells, canvases of oft-kilter taunts (“every day Christmas, I’m egg nogged out!”), reference (going from Liz Claiborne to Langston Hughes) and the most classic of poetic tropes, animal iconography—“I’m a panther! I’m a cougar!”
But Wayne adores nothing like he adores pure sound. He talks about having guns in his pockets—“My two best friends will accompany me / And right now they are in my dungarees, sleep”— but the line scans so effortlessly that the sounds themselves fill in the picture (“accompany” and “dungarees” would be another example of Wayne’s near-perfect unity of diction).
The final quarter of the double-disc Drought is stunner after stunner. He makes “Walk It Out” into a playground of middle-school diction (“explode in the bitch mouth like a Gusher”) and curbed vocal stops. YoungBloodz’s instantly forgettable “Chop Chop” becomes “Back On My Grizzy,” Wayne skittering through four minutes of unbroken, breathless lines, pushing through the chorus and thumbing his nose: “They say money talks? Well I’m the ventriloquist!” Then, just for degree of difficulty, he tackles Gnarles Barkley’s “Crazy” and sticks the damn thing.
And since there is no doubt that Wayne’s very success comes from his repulsion from the cerebral, maybe it’s time to appreciate just where Wayne’s skill comes from: the belly.
Half of the self-referencing similes on Drought 3 center on Wayne’s digestive tract: he eats like a newborn, he shits like a newborn, he’s gets high enough “to eat a star,” he buries the bones of vanquished rappers in his yard, he worships the eating habits of his favorite animals (remember how many damn shark images there where on Carter II?). Lil’ Wayne is the acrid, bottomless, ceaseless power of all things gastric. He is, in his own words, “the rapper eater! Feed me! Feed me!”
But just when we think Weezy is just another machine chopping up language into sections of pure pleasure, he shows us something else. Wayne steals the old master’s “Dead Presidents 2” (still one of the loneliest, most isolated rap melodies ever) and cuts himself: “Higher than all of the angels be / And no, I never choke, but I strangle beats / And I am just a player in this game we be, so go blame the referee, don’t complain to me. / I used to have a Cutlass on stainless feet / Back when Scarface used to sing to me, had me feelin’ like a G was the thing to be.”
In the middle of all his casual burping and linguistic rumblings, Lil’ Wayne is getting frightfully close to showing us his heart.