April 12, 2010

My First Mixtapes

"I'm warnin' you we on the move/Bunch o' female dogs and garden tools," pronounces Lil Wayne on his freshest mixtape, No Ceilings, released last Halloween and, by Carter's own statement, "priceless--which is why it's free."  No Ceilings almost convinces me, almost, so close, that Lil Wayne is the greatest rapper alive.  If so that doesn't make him the greatest hip-hop artist in the biz, necessarily.  In my opinion he's yet to release a Kala or a Late Registration, maybe even a College Dropout.  Despite that criticism, I love No Ceilings, which was the second of my first two mixtapes.  I might venture that it's more immediately impressive than his masterpiece, 2008's Tha Carter III, even if it isn't ultimately so rewarding.

Not sold on Lil Wayne?  I don't blame you, but I might suggest you loosen up.  Carter's language is, even to an individual raised on a diet of rawhide rock 'n' roll, almost repugnantly vulgar.  I wouldn't waste my life counting how many times he expounds on popping that pussy--not my choice of sexual vernacular any day (or night)--or boasts about fucking all sorts of women, single or otherwise, all night long or even a hundred times in a row, the former something I could do on right nights with the right woman putting me in the right mood, the latter something I'm sure as hell I'll never be able to do.  Beneath the vulgarity, I detect a moving sincerity and sentiment, which came across strongest in "Wayne on Me," where Lil Wayne answers Shanell's calls for a daddy by declaring, "I make that pussy happy," "I like to kiss, she like to kiss/I deep stroke and make her bite her fist:" reads crass on paper, or the Internet, but in the context of the music it reveals something deeper.

Beyond his sex-isms, Carter's lyrics are loaded with exactly the misogynistic, thug stereotypes Haters cite as the root of hip hop's evil.  In Carter's case, his stereotypes are more accurately described as archetypes: archetypes which he fills with his more-than-clever rhymes and stories and expands into ideas.  Maybe this began as gangsta rap, but Lil Wayne's music has long since grown out of that.  There are ceilings, as Carter may or may not be figuring out behind bars, but his music makes one believe otherwise.

You can download a copy of No Ceilings on Lil Wayne's official site, or on sites like DatPiff, which is where I downloaded mine.  Check out the "Sweet Dreams Remix"--man, can Nicki Minaj spin a verse!--or "I Got No Ceilings," where I was happy to find Weezy had sampled the best pop album since 1990 (the B.E.P.'s).  Or "Single," my favorite of the 21 tracks, descriptive words in my mind being "hot," "smoky," "moodfest."  I never understood just how sexy Lil Wayne is until I heard "Single."  After checking out these tracks, play the title track: is it just me or does it sound a heck of a lot like Kanye West's "Slow Jamz" off College Dropout?

Bringing me to, in terms of my listening, the first of my first two mixtapes, Kanye West's Can't Tell Me Nothing, released at the end of May way back in 2007.  My love of Mr. West doesn't render me so delusional as to think this is better or even comparable to Mr. Carter's No Ceilings, but is it ever fun.  Weezy actually shows up on the eleventh of the mixtape's 25 tracks, "C.O.L.O.U.R.S.," with Bentley and Pimp C.

Can't Tell Me Nothing was put out for West to showcase talent he'd signed to his G.O.O.D. Records, capitalizing on the anticipation for his third album, Graduation, which came out that September.  There are snippets of Graduation on this mixtape, snippets of little consequence to anyone now, great as they are.  "Us Placers," which samples the title track off Thom Yorke's The Eraser, was planned for inclusion on Graduation but removed at the last minute.  It introduces Child Rebel Soldier, according to Wikipedia a "hip hop supergroup" composed of West, Lupe Fiasco, and Pharrell Williams.  I'm lightly impressed by the song, more impressed by Rolling Stone's notes on the song, which proclaimed, "... hip hop isn't dead, and neither is rock.  They're quietly invincible."  Which makes sense to me.

There are pieces on the mixtape that, as West intended, encourage me to seek more.  "Stay Up" by 88-Keys, off his debut concept album (?!), chiefly for ambience.  Maybe a couple tracks by Common ("Southside" by name).  But the tracks that absorb me are the tracks with appearances from the Man in Charge, and not just because I'm a fan.  The only songs I play regularly are the Unholy Trinity kicking off with track 19, Kanye's remix of Ne-Yo's "Because of You," a soft- and translucent-as-water modern R&B single which I like because I'm a softy for such things.  I also have a soft spot for simpleton T-Pain, whose "Buy You a Drank" gets remixed next.  Sound advice therein, courtesy Mr. West: "Fuck a drink, I'mm'a buy the bar if you're worth it."

It doesn't take a college degree to recognize West's ingenious remix of Rich Boy's "Throw Some D's" is the crown point of the mixtape.  One of the reasons I love Kanye West is the wacky, neurotic routes his mind travels: here he takes a lame-as-a-flat-tire thug rap about giving a guy's car some Dayton rims--the titular "D's"--and re-interprets it as an anthem for breast implants.  To the young woman whose "face got potential" with a "waist like a pencil," West asks, "Why you spend your money on that shallow shit?/Why won't you buy some bigger tits?/Something that'll last you?"  Upon meeting a Beyonce fan: "Say she love Beyonce/Let me 'Upgrade U!'"  "She ain't pregnant but about to have twins," he notes.  Then he explains his respect for Alicia Keys.  I love every minute. 

After climaxing over Kanye's "D's," the mixtape deflates rapidly.  The Tony Williams song is a pleasant throwaway, the Really Doe piece really forgettable and really not helped by the then-increasingly-irksome and now-increasingly-forgotten Jennifer Hudson.  It ends with PM's unextraodinary "Hater Family."  The dullness of these final tracks leaves the listener plenty of time to think about the mixtape as a whole.  It's scatterbrained, uneven, and long.  It's also consistently fun, at its highest points a blast.  I recommend it as fervently as Kanye endorses breast augmentation.

During the next two weeks I'm beginning a monthly series called "Calendar Girls," in which I'll review one new album released within that month, the album being the calendar girl.  It's a loose concept.

Next month I'm seeing Public Image Ltd. at Terminal 5 in Hell's Kitchen.  I intend to be appropriately versed in the band by that time.  I'm going to post a column dedicated solely to the band, their discography, and, most important, my feelings about the band and their discography, sometime before I see them at the Terminal 5.  I've already heard Second Edition a number of times, and it was good enough for me to suggest you bring it to class next time we meet.  No extra credit for the overachievers packing Metal Box.