I’m a huge fan of lists. I like reading other people’s opinions on a given subject if they’ll take the time and effort to organize it. Personally, I’ve always kept an unofficial running list of my favorite albums across various genres of music. But hip hop is the genre I’m most passionate and knowledgeable about. So I did some deep thinking and reflection, and put together my top 10 favorite hip hop albums of all time.
This is the first installment in a 10 part series. I’ll be releasing one album each week. Describing the album, what I like/don’t like about it, favorite tracks, what they meant to me at the time I heard them, shit like that.
I strongly encourage feedback. My favorite part about music is that it’s completely subjective. Two people can be huge hip hop fans but completely disagree about an artist, an album, or a specific song. I’m making this list so I have it written down and when I’m old I can look back and see what I was into at age 28. But let me know what you think of the albums I pick. I’ll throw you a bone if you end up changing my mind or suggesting an album that makes it on to my future top 10 list.
Enough talking, let’s set it off!
Number 10: Lil Wayne – The Carter III (2008)
The year was 2008. My best friend and I had just moved to Cape Cod to work for the summer. The new Big 3 for the Celtics were on the verge of bringing the first NBA championship to Boston in my lifetime. And Lil Wayne had been scorching the earth with fire mixtape after fire mixtape for three solid years. He was the self-proclaimed “Best Rapper Alive,” but hadn’t yet put out an album that really solidified his place among the all time greats. Then in early June, The Carter III dropped, and summer 08 was officially Weezy season.
Let’s call a spade a spade – Lil Wayne is a southern rapper, and southern rappers aren’t exactly known for bringing a lot of emotion and layers to their music. But on The Carter III, Wayne ventures out of his comfort zone of bling-bling and bitches to explore a wide variety of subjects over a Thanksgiving feast of instrumentals. While about 1/3 of the album stays in that trap banger area (and boy are there some BANGERS on here), we get to see Wayne with a more toned-down, mellow delivery on guitar-based tracks like “Shoot Me Down” and “Tie My Hands” which has a great Robin Thicke feature. He also manages to seamlessly fit his rapping style onto unique, sample-based soul tracks like the two Kanye West productions (“Let the Beat Build” and “Comfortable“), and a super off the grid Swizz Beats track (“Dr. Carter“).
Every big album needs a few singles, and the three from The Carter III I ended up liking very much (there were four, but I’ll get to the fourth in a moment). Some people might joke on me for this, but I don’t care – I fucking LOVED “Lollipop.” Everyone my age knows the words to it, whether they liked it or not. It was such a fun song to sing along with, and the fact that Wayne was kind of bad at singing made everyone feel like they could replicate how he sounded. “Got Money” was probably the weakest out of the singles, but it wasn’t a dud by any means. “Mrs. Officer” was a fun track with a catchy hook (well done by Bobby V) and a playful guitar riff. It had a perfect summer feel to it.
But the coup de gras of this album, for me, are the first three tracks. Right off the bat, “3Peat” melts your face with energy. The epic strings and triumphant horns over the 808 drums makes it feel like this track could play in the end scene of Star Wars. It’s cinematic. The growing of intensity of Wayne’s delivery throughout the track lends itself perfectly to the incorporation of instruments as the song builds. It’s a perfect intro track and really sets the tone for the album. Then, we jump right into the most anticipated track on the album, “Mr. Carter,” which features none other than the actual Greatest Rapper Alive, Jay-Z. This track also has an epic/cinematic feel (or “colossal” to quote Wayne himself), sounding more like a symphony. The catchy piano chords are the nuts and bolts, while the vocal sample in the chorus really sticks in your head days later. Wayne spits two solid verses, while Jay swoops in to steal the show in the third verse like he does so very often on other artists’ tracks. It’s a much more mellow listening experience after the bombastic “3Peat,” and gives your brain a chance to rest before jumping into track 3…
Now, Lil Wayne has been making music for 20 years (fuck, I’m getting old), and you’d be hard-pressed to find a fan (casual or hardcore) that doesn’t think “A Milli” is Wayne’s best song. Because, quite simply, it is. Shit, it might even be one of the best hip hop songs of all time. The beat is so simple, yet so infectious. Producer Bangladesh (FYI that’s what the guy says in the beginning of the track, “Bangladesh”) laid down a simple drum beat, a chopped up vocal sample, and some HEAVY bass, then backed off and let Weezy spit bars. It’s just three long, wild verses separated by the chorus “Mother fucker I’m ill.” The flows and deliveries change on each verse, and never do you feel bored. There are SO many quotables. Every line is noteworthy. Just read through the lyrics while listening. Fire line after fire line. This track was immediately a hit, and the fact that it’s still his most played track on Spotify is a testament to its quality. This is by far the best song on The Carter III, and in Lil Wayne’s long career.
There were only a few disappointments on this album. I thought the Cool & Dre collaboration (“Phone Home“) went out of its way to be weird just for the sake of being different. I remember being very disappointed in it because I love most of Cool & Dre’s productions on other albums. “Playing With Fire” was forgettable. And honestly, I was a little disappointed at the time by the Kanye track “Comfortable.” This was when Kanye was at his peak hip hop producing ability, IMO. That track just lacked any punch whatsoever. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention David Banner’s “La La.” For a goofy track with a juvenile chorus (“N*gga I’m the shit get the fuck up out my toilet“), I STILL find myself humming this song from time to time. It’s just one of those melodies that is permanently drilled into my head. Also, “You Ain’t Got Nothin” somehow slipped by the mainstream audience without being noticed. I think it lacked a catchy chorus, but it had two big name features (Fabolous and Juelz Santana), and some banger production by my boy The Alchemist.
The Carter III will forever bring me back to the Summer of 2008. It reminds me of sun, fun, blunts, and championship basketball. It was the peak creative point in Lil Wayne’s career, where he stretched his capabilities as far as he could go. His lyrics were witty, his energy was contagious, the beats were dope, and the track listing had great variety. This is the quintessential Lil Wayne album, and a must-have for any Weezy fan. A strong start to my top 10.