Lil Wayne

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Rap fans split two ways when it comes to Lil Wayne. One group (mostly younger listeners but also a gushing music press) has gone along with Dwayne Carter’s claims of being “the best rapper alive,” interpreting his consistent mixtape presence as a sign of B.I.G.-like greatness. The rest see Wayne as an emperor with no clothes, whose stream-of-consciousness rhymes fail to represent the collective struggle (or even his own rags-to-riches New Orleans story). Both views are somewhat off. Wayne is not the best rap has to offer. But perched on the edge of insanity and pop accessibility, he is undeniably its most compelling figure.

Like Wayne’s performance at this month’s Summer Jam (which, depending on whom you ask, was the greatest thing ever or a drug-addled train wreck), Tha Carter III is simultaneously exhilarating and befuddling. Album opener “3 Peat” is a baseless boastfest that negates its own claims; “Mr. Carter,” a symbolic passing of the torch featuring Jay-Z, doesn’t deliver on its hype. But once Wayne finds his groove (a third of the way through the album, beginning with the goofy but well-executed concept rap of “Dr. Carter”), he rarely loses it, culminating with weeded-out spoken-word rants (about the prison-industrial complex and Al Sharpton!) that finish off album closer “Misunderstood.” Tha Carter III is like a good roller coaster: It’s hard to prepare for the sort of twists and turns in store. It may not be the best rap album you’ll hear this year, but it certainly lives up to its billing as the rap event of 2008.

Tha Carter III (Cash Money/Universal)