Day 183: "Got Money" feat. T-Pain – Tha Carter III , 2008
Today, we cross the threshold into the second half of the Year of Lil Wayne. This calls for a victory lap, and there are few moments of victory in Wayne's catalog more pronounced than the song "Got Money," which I've always thought of as batting the cleanup role on Tha Carter III. You've got the dramatic lead-in of "3Peat" followed by the epic bombast of "Mr. Carter" followed by the lights-out performance of "A Milli." And then, like any good cleanup hitter, you have the big, dumb "Got Money," a song that is so thoroughly and unapologetically a 2008 rap radio hit that it seems concocted in a lab. But who cares? I have a memory of just about every review at the time literally calling it a victory lap (on further examination, it might have just been this one; shouts out to Tom Breihan's Village Voice blog for basically being A Year of Lil Wayne in real time). This is Wayne and T-Pain at their joint commercial peak (another review I found of Tha Carter III referred to T-Pain alongside Jay Z as the album's "A-list" talent) making an idiotically simple hit song. It was generally panned or ignored by critics, and it charted lower than "A Milli" and "Lollipop," both of which are much weirder songs and less conventional hits.
Yet I've always loved "Got Money" for the fact that it is so clumsily trying to be a hit and in fact is. I love how it starts with Lil Wayne yelling for a Winn-Dixie grocery bag. I love that Wayne references both "Make It Rain" and "Umbrella." I love all the dumb punchlines like, "It go one for the money, two for the show / now clap your hands if you got a bankroll," which is followed by actual handclaps. I especially love the closing dumb punchline, which is one of those great signature Wayne rapping moments, where he sets aside the idea of flow to emphasize a dumb joke: "bitch I'm the bomb like 'tick, tick.'" When I first heard this song, I remember being disappointed that Wayne had gone for generic radio rap and then thinking that at least he had that goofy "the bomb" line on there. So to me it will always be a victory lap moment.
That line, unfortunately, is not in the video, which is a truly incredible piece of art. It involves Wayne staging a bank robbery based on the movie Inside Man (great movie!) while the entirety of Young Money—see who you can spot, supposedly Drake is in it but I don't see him—plus 2 Chainz hang out in the bank like it's a club (say what you will about Tyga, but he was there; unrelatedly, Kylie Jenner was 11 when this video was filmed). In the video version Mack Maine gets a verse as he's escaping in an armored truck for some reason. But it's a good verse, so I'll give it a pass for overriding my favorite Wayne line. According to T-Pain, who explained the story in an interview with USA Today in 2015, the video was shot the same day as the "A Milli" video, which you may remember happens in one take behind the scenes of a video shoot. The money, in case you were worried, was real: "I didn't feel comfortable because it wasn't mine—or maybe it was," T-Pain told USA Today. "Maybe that was my payment for the video. I asked for fake money, but they kept passing me real money, like, 'Yo, just throw this.' I was like, 'No, I'm not throwing real (expletive) money.'"
Another thing I learned about this song as I was researching this post was that it originally made for Pitbull, who got T-Pain on it, but it was turned in too late for Pitbull's album, so it got passed to the likes of Plies, Fat Joe, and eventually N.O.R.E. But T-Pain had simultaneously given it to Wayne, and N.O.R.E. graciously stepped aside and let Wayne have it because he could see what a big look it would be for the producers, Play-N-Skillz. Play also argues, to XXL, "In my opinion, it's probably the most relevant record on that Tha Carter III. It's probably the only song that could still get play in 2014. The record was released in 2008. That's a song that could still get play."
It's an interesting claim, and I'm not sure it's true, but I respect the idea. It's definitely more of a hit than critics at the time realized. Maybe that's because it marked the point where Tha Carter III started going off the rails into cheesy pop territory. But it also marked a landmark win. Halfway through a Year of Lil Wayne, we are in similar territory—celebrating and potentially going off the rails. Here's to 182 more days of this crazy project, with just the right song for the occasion.
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