Midway through his sixth official album—already well on its way to meeting industry expectations as the bestselling release of 2008 and widely hailed by critics as a classic thanks to early leaks and mix-tape previews—the former Dwayne Michael Carter employs his trademark vocodered/electronically altered vocals in a song called “Phone Home,” croaking, “We are not the same/I am a Martian… They don’t make ’em like me no more/Matter fact, they never made it like me before.”
The wildly inventive black artist as cosmically inspired extra-terrestrial routine is one with a noble history, encompassing talents as diverse as Sun Ra and George Clinton. But Weezy, as the laconic, sing-song New Orleans rapper is also justifiably known, works way too hard to hone his eccentric image on “The Carter III”—as opposed to his prolific flood of Internet product, which is much loved for its off-the-cuff freestyle charms—and it’s hard to accept that any bona fide alien would have caved so quickly to his record company’s demands that this big bid for crossover superstardom had something for every demographic imaginable, violence-loving gangstas to hook-crazed teenyboppers and Robin Thicke-adoring soccer moms to ADD-suffering indie hipsters.
As scattered and unfocused as this collection is, there’s no denying that several tracks midway through are almost strong enough to justify the hype, chief among them the two musically inventive, lyrically inspired jams crafted by Kanye West, “Comfortable” and “Let the Beat Build.” But other tracks that are fun lyrically are dragged down by lazy musical backings (“Dr. Carter,” where Weezy’s operating room spoof suffers from producer Swizz Beat’s lazy lift of a straight David Axelrod riff) or vice-versa (“Playing with Fife,” Streetrunner’s re-invention of the Rolling Stones’ “Play with Fire” in collaboration with old-school soul singer Betty Wright, is wasted on a Lil Wayne lyric that seems to have been devoted to being as inanely sexist as possible).
Ah, yes: Inane sexism. That, of course, brings us to “Lollipop,” the record-breaking, chart-topping single destined to be the summer soundtrack of 2008. Musically irresistible, it’s not that the track is thematically reprehensible; some of the greatest hits in pop history have paid subtly veiled homage to oral sex, “Please Please Me,” “Sugar, Sugar” and the B-52s’ “Roam” among them. It’s just that Lil Wayne is irredeemably lazy, mired in what New York Times critic Jon Pareles called the single entendre (why trouble with two when one will do?) and, like much of the album, falling frustratingly short of what could and should have been a career climax. Even a sucker deserves better.