Gifted MC loses the run of himself without Mannie Fresh
Rap artists are not strongly tied to collaborators in the way that rock musicians are; hip-hop MCs regularly work with dozens of different producers – often within the confines of a single record.
Largely, this is beneficial, as it provides greater opportunities to broaden one’s musical horizons. However, the effect is that the development of creative chemistry via sustained collaboration can sometimes be neglected.
Snoop Dogg and Missy Elliot, for instance, built strong creative ties with Dr Dre and Timbaland (respectively) in their early years, and have struggled to deliver records of consistent excellence since moving on to work with a wider range of producers. Sadly, Lil Wayne (real name Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.) appears to be on a similar path.
Wayne’s albums used to be dominated – and often exclusively populated – by tracks produced by Mannie Fresh, the gifted in-houser for legendary hip-hop label Cash Money Records. While the young MC’s eagerness to try new things is understandable – particularly given his recent ascension to superstar status – his creative star has dimmed a little since parting ways with Fresh after his 2004 masterpiece, Tha Carter. Maddeningly, this dip in production quality comes at a time when Wayne’s regular claims to being “the best rapper alive” are well-founded. Tha Carter III sees him move from brash, clear-headed boasts to more unhinged, stream-of-consciousness babble with marvellous effect; the charmingly pre-pubescent whine evident on his earlier records has given way to a deeper, weed-induced croak.
However, the album contains only a handful of tracks on which the production matches the eccentric brilliance of Wayne’s flow. Kanye West proves to be a surprisingly good foil on ‘Let The Beat Build’, a rousing mixture of groovy piano and looped gospel samples. Elsewhere, the dark, paranoid roll of ‘Shoot Me Down’ is a perfect backdrop for Carter’s edgy, nightmarish rhymes, while his spoken/semi-rapped ramble on the outro to soul-tinged closer ‘Dontgetit’ is also a treat.
Still, Lil Wayne’s ego-fuelled unwillingness to retain close ties with the collaborators that helped him reach his current status is beginning to mark him out as hip-hop’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
Key Track: ‘Shoot Me Down’
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