Day 17: "Dr. Carter" – Tha Carter III, 2008
I'm currently on vacation, which is a good excuse to phone it in. Fortunately, as I've mentioned before, I have a few friends who are super into Lil Wayne as well and who are more than capable of saying smart stuff about him. One of those is Noisey contributor Paul Thompson, who most recently appeared on this website writing an excellent profile of Danny Brown. Just a few days after I started this Year of Lil Wayne project, Paul announced that he'd written a book called I Feel Like Dying. It's an experimental piece, combining a short story/novella about a college athlete called "Wolf Point," an essay on Juvenile's "Slow Motion," and an extended critical reading/freeform essay about Lil Wayne's music from 2004 through the release of Tha Carter III. True to its inspiration from mixtape Wayne, you can download it for free right here, while a physical copy will go on sale in January 2017. Given our joint interest in the pursuit of dissecting Wayne's discography, it seemed only right to publish an excerpt of the book on this blog. So, with no further ado, here is part of the section on Tha Carter III and specifically the song "Dr. Carter."
Even If They Stopped Me (June 2008) by Paul Thompson
I made $350 selling burned copies of Tha Carter III which, according to various lawsuits, is more than a handful of the album's producers ever saw. Maybe more than Wayne.
In a famous video interview that's since been scrubbed from the internet, a journalist asks him about "Dr. Carter," a Swizz Beatz-produced concept song where he plays a doctor bringing a variety of rappers (and/or hip-hop itself; the metaphor is kind of malformed) back to life. Wayne appears to not realize it made the final cut of the album, which is far less ridiculous than it seems when you consider the pace at which he was recording, and the havoc the Empire leaks wreaked on the album plans.
There's this moment in "Dr. Carter" where Wayne, tasked with coaching up a rapper whose "vocab and metaphors need work," raps "I graduated / 'Cause you can live through anything if Magic made it," essentially a verbatim quote from Graduation. But the next bar spins it into a meta-commentary:
"And that was called recycling
Or re-reciting something
'Cause you just like it, so you say it just like it
Some say it's biting, but I say it's enlightening
Besides, Dr. Kanye West is one of the brightest"
It's reverent but still fun, the kind of high-concept in-joke that's fallen out of vogue. But it's a bit of misdirection, too. Whatever his intentions, Wayne's erasure of everyone whose beats he stole was swift and merciless, not self-aware homage. He overwhelmed. That's why, on Carter III's opening song, "3 Peat," when he says "Bounce right back on them bitches like Magic," he pushes "Can't Tell Me Nothing" out of the spotlight just a little.
Speaking of Graduation: If Brad and I were disappointed with "Barry Bonds," imagine how we felt about "Got Money." The T-Pain revisionism is just starting, but it's too late; He should have been a critical darling from the second "I'm Sprung" hit BET. And yet instead of the undeniable classic that '07 T-Wayne should have been, "Got Money" is a tepid, too-serious swing for the middle distance. "I need a Winn-Dixie grocery bag full of money" is a great opening ad-lib, but it's downhill from there.
There are no trainwrecks on Tha Carter III. It falls short of the classic bracket some try to shoehorn it into, but not because it took giant swings and missed. Beyond the obvious fact that almost all the best Wayne material from 2006 and 2007 was either leaked or recorded on borrowed instrumentals, the album is dully, excessively safe. What do you remember about "Shoot Me Down"? How about "You Ain't Got Nuthin"? "Playing With Fire"? (You're excused from the last one if you aren't one of the million-plus people who bought C3 in its first week of release; after the album inspired its first lawsuit, it was replaced by the equally forgettable "Pussy Monster.") "Phone Home" is endearing, but sort of sounds like it was commissioned for the straight-to-VHS E.T. prequel. "La La" never gets off the ground, mostly because of its brutal David Banner beat—and it doesn't help that its title is so close to one of Wayne's greatest records.
The Carter, that documentary from 2009 that got all that press, is absolutely arresting. It's not particularly well-made—at one point, Baby is introduced as "Brian Williams," like the NBC anchor who also has an oil derrick tattooed on his head—but it has immense amounts of footage from the months leading up to C3's release. The fact that Wayne allowed cameras to follow him for nearly half a year, capturing very intimate moments, yet refused to sit for an interview with the documentary crew, is telling of his relationship to fame.
For instance, there's a moment where, in a crowded greenroom after a performance, Wayne asks 15-year-old Young Money signee Lil Twist if he's had sex yet. He addresses the room, not just his protegé:
"I was fucking at 11! I had Reginae at 15, nigga! I had my daughter when I was 15, nigga. It ain't 'cause you a male, it ain't 'cause you're 15—you're supposed to 'cause you're Young Money."
"I got raped when I was 11, Twist."
The din in the background stops, mostly.
"And I loved it."
"I ain't never press charges. I'ma do you like Baby and them did me. Yeah. I'll never forget that day. They was all in the kitchen; I was scared. There was about this many niggas [Wayne indicates the rest of the greenroom]. I'll never forget the words: 'Suck Lil Wayne's lil dick!' I'm sitting on the couch, everybody was in that bitch."
At this point, he re-enacts the dialogue from that moment in his past. His back is to Twist; he's performing for those his age and older. They're laughing giddily, some with eyes glazed over, from the smoke that's settling into the furniture or from their proximity to Wayne.
"I walked out that bitch—I felt like I had killed five niggas, ran through three banks…you don't understand. I was a different man after that. I was Lil Wayne."
He nods, then takes a pull from a three-deep stack of styrofoam cups. The story's over. The documentary cuts to an interview with Reginae, the daughter Wayne had as an adolescent, because the juxtaposition of a man talking about sex and having a kid is supposed to be profound.
It's easy to be horrified: at the fact that Wayne, barely out of elementary school, had adults push him into a sexual encounter; at the fact that Wayne is, in a way, continuing that cycle with Lil Twist. It's easy to draw conclusions about latent psychological trauma or arrested development. But Wayne seems pretty clear-eyed about what happened. Even if "I was raped" was flippant, it was probably true, and he admits that he was terrified. To him, that's just the cost of fame; as he tells Twist, it's not about manhood or age—it's about Young Money.
The moments that work on C3 are, almost exclusively, moments of triumph. And by this point in Wayne's career, triumph often came with the subtext of liberation from Cash Money. Not literally, of course—when he was being courted by Jay Z and every other major label, he chose to re-up—but on "Let the Beat Build," or "DontGetIt," or "Mr. Carter," he's stepped out from under the Hot Boys umbrella, out from under Baby's thumb.
Kyle Kramer is an editor at Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.
Paul Thompson is a writer based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.