Lil Wayne :: Tha Carter :: Cash Money/Universal Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

Lil Wayne has stood his ground as one of Cash Money's most loyal soldiers, even when his fellow Hot Boys members B.G. and Juvenile thought they were leaving for greener pastures. While it remains to see if the former can succeed on his own, the latter ultimately returned with "Juve the Great" and found that you can go home again. Meanwhile, Wayne had been raising his star on the label in Juve's absence, possibly even rubbing salt in Juve's wounds by naming his last album "500 Degreez," implying it was hotter than Juvenile's "400 Degreez" classic.

To no one's surprise Wayne did not appear as a guest star on Juvenile's last album, nor will you find Juvenile anywhere on "Tha Carter." In the movie "New Jack City," the Carter was the central location gangster Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes) ran his drug empire from - essentially an entire city project that he evicted tenants from at will to set up production labs and business offices in their former homes. It was a slick and highly organized operation, and on "Tha Carter" Lil Wayne operates in a similarly smooth fashion.

The foundation of "Tha Carter" is built on Mannie Fresh's tight beats, which is not surprising for a Cash Money release. He produces two-thirds of the album's 18 songs (2 skits are not included in the 20 track total) and the rest is ably handled by cats like The Architects and Raj Smoove. And as Wayne's tradition, the first single "Bring it Back" is designed to directly appeal to his core fan base, featuring a traditional Southern bounce beat and slamming base. Wayne hasn't always been known for his lyrical cleverness, but on this track he pulls out a few surprises:

"I'm the Cash Money Makaveli, y'all ain't ready
Quick fast like Tom Petty, y'all just petty
Eighty-two I was born ready, I'm too ready
Y'all Betty Crocker baller blockers I'm too heavy
Meatball Lamborghini, top spaghetti
Seats Ragu, ah - 20 the shoe
Boo me and you got plenty to do
I don't need no pool I swimmin in you
And I sleep with the sharks shawty on that water water
And the Beamer eight hundred-forty, mama shake som'n for me
And it don't make sense if it don't make that money
I'ma take that money, I'm straight Cash Money"

Wayne's topic matter is the typical New Orleans hood rap, from enjoying the good life that comes with fortune and fame to dealing with the ones jealous of it. "Get Down" is a light-hearted bounce with Baby that addresses both. "I Miss My Dawgs" featuring Reel is dedicated to the ones Wayne lost along the way who aren't there to enjoy said success. "We Don't" indicates that now that they've got that success, they're not about to fuck around and lose it, with Baby making another cameo. Is it innovative? Original? Are they speaking on anything new? No. All the same time though, Wayne does seem to have rededicated himself to being a good lyricist, finding ways to inject his own unique brand of humor and wit into even the most muderous of tracks. On "We Don't" for example he spits this nice line: "I took over the circus/cause I'ma act a clown if you put your feet down on my surface." Not bad! It's ironic that he refers to himself as a younger Birdman, because in flow and ability he clearly surpasses Baby on songs like "Ain't That a Bitch":

"I'm slick as I wanna be, born to be hustler
Gonna be rich 'til I'm gone
Gonna keep spittin this shit for them hustlers
Gonna keep livin this shit I'm gutless
Bet I'm gonna reap this when I'm gone defeat this while I'm here Gonna keep beatin this street shit in ya ear
Gonna, speak for every single street this year
My shit beat in every Jeep on every street this year
Wizzle, F, baby, y'all niggaz can have the Weezy
I'm the Birdman Junior, junior
I'm a man to another man.. to a bitch I'm a pimp
In the whip I'm a hundred grand
And in the streets I'm a money man
And I'm a hunt it with the streets
I get money in the streets like a hundred men
A hundred proof in my other hand
If ever fall spring back like a rubberband"

While it's hard to hold down an album over seventy-five minutes long and make every track a banger, musically alone the album comes pretty close and you have to respect the fact that as during his time as the sole Hot Boy left, Wayne stepped his game up. "Tha Carter" shows him being rewarded for that loyalty, just like Nino did his Cash Money Brothers in "New Jack City." Their empire ultimately fell apart, but one gets the feeling listening to "Tha Carter" that unlike their namesake, Cash Money Records have not only survived their hard times but are back stronger than ever.

Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10

Originally posted: July 13, 2004