Day 131: "We Don't" feat. Birdman – Tha Carter , 2004
You won't find many people as quick to throw the stodgily traditional idea that rap has to stick to a certain type of dense lyricism under the bus as I am—I'm on record as being super pro-Lil Yachty, after all. But on the other hand, it does sometimes bum me out that the trend of modern rap has been mostly toward saying everything as directly as possible and making the production aesthetic do a lot of the heavy lifting. Blame Drake's hyper-literalism or the obsession with verbosity among the Canibuses and co. of the world or the fact that Chief Keef fucking bangs, but the point is that the joy that comes from hearing something said in as crazily dense a way as possible is no longer an implicit assumption.
Still, I think that there's a lot to enjoy from rap that celebrates the thrill of a bunch of words being strung together in the coolest possible way. This is, of course, one of the principal joys of listening to Lil Wayne, a rapper who understands better than perhaps anyone that the artistry in rap doesn't lie just in saying the words but also very much in what the words are and how they sound and how you say them. Wayne is a genius when it comes to relishing the sounds of certain words and the way their natural rhythms bump up against each other. He takes joy in internal rhymes and consonance in a way few other rappers do. While some people might outline storytelling or message as the primary virtue of rap, for Wayne imagery and delivery almost always take precedence. To that point, let me call to your attention the opening four bars of the third verse of "We Don't," which go:
Shoot him in his head so he remember
Because of that
Mama I'll be gone til November
I be back next winter in a Hummer on spinners
Listen to how cool he sounds here! He rhymes "remember" and "November" and "spinners," but he also punctuates those rhymes with the internal rhyme of "winter" and "spinners" and by using the word "Hummer" to punctuate the "M" sounds in "mama" and "remember" and "November." The line "because of that" pulls an abrupt stop into the line that punctuates the idea of "shoot him in his head." And then, in the end, all of these lines thread a narrative. And that's just in four lines! This is Wayne at his finest: It's implicit that he's going to maximize the thrill of what he is talking about in the way that he raps it. That's not a guarantee with most rap—most music period—and that's a perfect example of why Lil Wayne is so goddamn good.
Follow Kyle Kramer on Twitter.