Hump day, right? It’s not accident that we’re talking about Graduation on Wednesday. (It is 100% accidental, actually.) On the third day, Yeezus gave us a transitional album, a flashy new persona, shutter shades, and it was good.
I’m going to lay my cards on the table: as I implied in my introduction, I heard Graduation last of all Kanye’s solo albums. I really missed out on a lot of Kanye’s big media appearances at this point in his career, the neon clothing and lasers and all that. (I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is sort of like paradise if you like breakfast burritos and cheap turquoise jewelry. Who could blame me?) Therefore, Graduation has always (for the last thirteen months, at least) seemed like a chamber orchestra version of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy's wickedly clipping symphony.
I started listening to Graduation while I was sort of deeply in the thrall of Kanye’s ego, and it seemed like equal parts the end of his early (or middle) career and the beginning of his real ambitious later career. Of course, as I hope I showed, his early/middle career was mad ambitious. The fact that Graduation ended up being so great, then, sort of blows my mind.
He finally started collaborating with Mike Dean and using crazy samples: Steely Dan, Can, Daft Punk. While he could and would dip into the ‘neo-soul’ well, again, Kanye’s also well on his way to something else altogether musically. Graduation is my second-favorite K. West album, and at times I think it’s my favorite. The experience of listening to it is incredibly uplifting to me. At some point in each of Kanye’s preceding albums, there’s a song that ruins their momentum. On College Dropout, that song is “Spaceship” (though if you like that song, the album continues to flow for a while after that). On Late Registration, the album is interrupted at “Drive Slow”. Graduation — while not sequenced perfectly — has no filler, no clunkers, no momentum killers. The only song that’s not getting at least an A from me is “Barry Bonds”. Wayne’s verse is terrible, so that sort of evens out all the praise he gets for his verse on 808s and Heartbreak's “See You In My Nightmares”, right? So at this point, if you're doing a seat race with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I think you swap “Barry Bonds” with “So Appalled”, and, damn I don’t know. Graduation might win that contest. Also, it might be art, but that Chris Rock shit marks a backslide into skit territory. I cannot tell you how glad I am — listening to Graduation — to not have to skip past skits. So if I’m being honest here, I’d have to say Graduation is 1A and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is 1B.
Hello One Week One Band world, I’m David Turner.
This week is going to be about Lil Wayne, in case you missed Hendrik’s post yesterday. Again, just to catch up for today’s readers, I write about rap and pop at my tumblr (dalatu.tumblr.com). I’ll be a junior in college in a month, I work at my school’s library (YOU NEEDED TO KNOW THIS INFORMATION), and I’m super thankful for Hendrik letting me do this, so thanks Hendrik.
The image above is something I asked to be done by rap art maker (and DJ mix maker), Meghan Garvey. Besides liking the image, visually it represents pretty well how I think of Lil Wayne, green skin and blue background and all.
After much hand-wringing I figured the best way to keep my sanity while writing this week was to go in chronological order and let the digressions and over-praising of auto-tune just happen—told you that Green Wayne is a precursor for this week. For the written posts, I want the first post of the day to be (loosely) the theme of the day, and let the rest of the posts of the day jump off from it. So, here is the first full post about Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.:
Lil Wayne was born in 1982 and by 1995 had already recorded a joint album (True Story). That album was recorded when Lil Wayne was only 12 years old with the also quite young B.G., who was 14 at the time. By the time Cash Money Records got their big national hit songs (“Ha”, “I Need a Hot Girl”, “Bling Bling”), Lil Wayne already had a few solid years as a recording artist. So for those that wanted to pay attention, the growth of Lil Wayne from one of the young faces on the Hot Boys to the guy saying he’s “The Best Rapper Alive” was not hidden but rather pretty public.
Lil Wayne’s creation myth features a story of him shooting himself at the age of 12; him getting signed after rapping to the Cash Money Record answering machine, and him coming up with the phrase “Bling Bling”, which would later become one of one of Cash Money Records’ biggest hits. Those few stories show that Lil Wayne’s childhood has plenty of material that could be mined for retelling, but success has voided out the necessity of these tales.
Had Lil Wayne’s career peaked in 2000, then sure those would be the highlights on a minor Wikipedia page, but instead Wayne’s myth is pushed down a few years to around 2004-2005 (which will be looked at tomorrow). This is not looking at a lost time period of Lil Wayne’s career, or one that even he won’t talk about. Today is looking at a period history has cast aside and not come back to since Wayne entered the incredible heights of the second half of his career.
Bling Bling - B.G. (feat. Birdman, Juvenile, Lil Wayne, Mannie Fresh, Turk)
I guess this is where the music talk begins. This isn’t the first song Lil Wayne appears on. This isn’t his first hit single (that would be Juvenile’s “Back That Ass Up”). And this isn’t even his own song* (it’s actually B.G.’s from his excellent Chopper City in the Ghetto). So why begin here?
It actually pretty simple: Bling Bling.
This might have originally been B.G.’s song and he might have the best verse (“I got the price of a mansion around my neck and wrist”) but featuring all of the Cash Money Millionaires (Lil Wayne, Juvenile, Turk, Birdman, and Mannie Fresh) this bright moment in Cash Money history was shared by the entire crew. Lil Wayne’s verse is a fun bit of braggadocios, but the hook of the song is one of the most memorable hooks he ever provided in song—which is really saying something. The hook is about the sound created when light hits expensive jewelry, which if the late-90s Music industry, Post-Shiny Suit Rap World, or even just America pre-Y2k and pre-9/11 needed a phrase to rally behind: “Bling Bling” was probably the most qualified candidate.
*Sadly/unsurprisingly the Youtube video with the most views from late 2006 credits the song to “Juvenile & Lil Wayne” with no mention of B.G., Turk, Birdman or Mannie Fresh, which makes sense as in 2006 the biggest stars from the videos were Juvenile and Lil Wayne. But sadder, I’d bet if the video was uploaded today it probably would just say “RARE YOUNG LIL WAYNE VIDEO” ignoring the rest of the crew.
10000 Bars - Lil Wayne
Did you know Lil Wayne doesn’t write down his lyrics? Yep, he doesn’t, all those songs and guest features from the last near decade have come from the top of his head—well not exactly, but I’ll get into that later in the week. “10000 Bars” is the recording of Wayne going through all of his previously written lyrics in one take and ripping out the pages once he finishes rapping them. As a historical document it is pretty interesting to think that from this point out that Lil Wayne was no longer down his most popular and memorable line, and actually for a 32 minute straight song it isn’t terrible. Part of that is because the beat changes after a verse or two, so if for nothing else it is a quaint time capsule of early 2000 Rap/R&B instrumentals.
This is the last song for the today (It’s been a long day I know). But this recording shows the rapper Wayne was evolving into. One that would eventually call himself “The Best Rapper Alive”, and while that is something truly impossible to judge, Wayne’s dedication to rapping could not be questioned. In a few years it would become apparent how much time he would dedicate and sacrifice he would make to strive to become the best rapper period.
A far more interesting version of this week would just examine Lil Wayne’s career by looking at the length of his hair; his braids being relatively short in this picture, once again by Meghan Garvey.
Today we see Lil Wayne progressing from his early 2000s career (remember those flat cornrows yesterday) to an eventual rap/pop star with the chest-long braids he’s been wearing for the last half-decade.