“I don’t rap, I sell movies,” spits Lil Wayne on “Playing with Fire,” a track from his seventh full-length album Tha Carter III. But if Lil Wayne was a movie, he’d be Richard Pryor’s Live at the Sunset Strip. Unlike Jay-Z’s recent American Gangster, he doesn’t portray a character whose adventures add up to a plot full of triumph and tragedy. Instead, Weezy freestyles about life like a smoked-out dude on the corner, and all sorts of crazy opinions tumble out of his mouth. He ridicules the Rev. Al Sharpton on “Dontgetit,” and says, “You’re just another Don King with a perm.” He claims to be a Martian on “Phone Home,” and on “Tie My Hands” he riffs on Hurricane Katrina, “I lost everything, but I ain’t the only one / First came the hurricane, then the morning sun.”
Tha Carter III hearkens to when rap meant rapp: Isaac Hayes talking for days about some girl he broke with, or Bobby Womack signifying while strumming a blues guitar. It’s a testament to Lil Wayne’s imaginative use of words that he’s grown so popular—indeed, some (including himself) claim he’s the best rapper alive—on the strength of what are essentially soliloquies. Most of the songs don’t even feature a topic, just a beat and a perfunctory chorus to tie it together. Meanwhile, the production adds to the dank, Southern vibe. Betty Wright sings the chorus on “Playing with Fire,” Kanye West loops a crying soul vocal for “Let the Beat Build,” and Nina Simone’s rendition of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” girds “Dontgetit.” Tha Carter III sounds wild and loose, a testament to Lil Wayne’s inimitable, iconic voice.