Day 1: "A Milli" (Album Version) – Tha Carter III, 2008
This is a blog post about the best Lil Wayne song of all time. I would have a case for beginning many blog posts about Wayne songs that way, and perhaps I will in due time. But if there is one, a single one, the one that should go in the history books, surely it is "A Milli," the moment where Wayne did what he did and the rest of the rap world was left to do what they could do about it. So we'll begin here.
In 2008, Lil Wayne was the hottest rapper in the world, a fixture on radio and the king of the mixtape circuit. The near-consensus was that he had matured in the two-plus years since his last official album, Tha Carter II, from a popular rapper and skilled hitmaker into perhaps the most dextrous, creative lyricist hip-hop had ever seen. His output was otherworldly: Literally hundreds, if not thousands, of tracks had emerged during this period, whether on official mixtapes or as leaked loosies and DJ mixtape exclusives, each showcasing flows and technical experiments more dizzying than the last. As he would rap, his criteria compared to your career just wasn't fair.
But to rap purists, Wayne, riding high on the poppy success of "Lollipop," still had something to prove, and that required making a classic album with rock-solid bars. "A Milli" was the song. It would top the rap charts, hit number six on the Hot 100, and become the de facto song for rappers to freestyle over that summer, even drawing a verse from Wayne's putative rival as rap's king and top Carter, Jay Z. It enshrined the T-Mobile Sidekick in history forever. It had the sickest video, a single-shot riff on a star's life behind the scenes featuring a character named Birdman, which was later copied by Alejandro Iñárritu and Michael Keaton to Oscar-winning effect. It spawned what might still be considered Lil Wayne's motto, "what's a goon to a goblin?" If there is a pivotal point in Wayne's career, a moment when he went from star to superstar, "A Milli" is it. So, again, we'll begin here.
This is an experiment. For today and the ensuing 364 days, I am going to blog about a Lil Wayne song. I'm calling it, creatively, A Year of Lil Wayne. Will I fail? It's possible. My coworker Dan Ozzi gives me a week before I lose steam. I give him a year before he eats his hat. We'll see which one of us ends up being right (me) and which one of us ends up fielding numerous book offers from that company that publishes books for Urban Outfitters (also me) while the other is in said Urban Outfitters chomping away at a Brixton Manufacturing Co. snapback (Dan). A year is a long time. It's also barely even enough time to begin to make a dent in Lil Wayne's catalog, which, when you count all the Cash Money songs and guest features and present-day songs that purists would prefer to forget—all of which I very much plan to count—could probably keep the concept going for at least a decade. There's something reassuring about the enormity of that catalog: Since there's no way I can hope to be anything close to definitive, I might as well do whatever I dang well feel like, even if that means wasting a week breaking down verses on I Am Not a Human Being 2 or devoting a day to a single movie reference in a single freestyle.
There's a beauty to that format (as the person undertaking it, I'm allowed to make bold claims like that) that, to me, is missing from today's version of the internet. Back in the day, which is to say like four years ago, the internet was a place where you could come and find likeminded strangers to geek out over cool common interests with and maybe learn something. Blogs existed because people spent their time online just doing stuff they liked. Now, the internet—or at least the commercial internet that sells your clicks for cold, hard cool points to Budweiser—exists mostly to compile information that you can already find on Twitter, shore up your existing beliefs, and produce short videos about how to make spaghetti that looks good on Instagram. And music blogging, well…
I have a lot of thoughts on that, but suffice it to say that social media disincentivized publishing the type of deliberate, unsensational writing that mirrors how we might want to think about music at our own pace in favor of a constant churn that is easy to talk about. What are the chances that we are all going to choose to geek out over the internal rhyme scheme of Lil Wayne rapping "A million here a million there / Sicilian bitch with long hair with coconut derrière" at the same time? Low, especially when we could be talking about whether or not Frank Ocean will put out a new album, which, of course, would be new. Novelty is prized over inherent musical value (notice how people had a lot less to say about that Frank Ocean album once it was finally out hmmmmm). But there's no reason that old stuff can't, in fact, be new to us and get treated the same way on social media. Or maybe there is! We're about to find out. But I'll tender a hypothesis: While we often act like we already know everything that already exists because, of course, we're only a Google search away from expertise, there's a lot that we don't know.
Lil Wayne is one of my favorite artists ever, although I would consider myself, by the standards of Lil Wayne fans, a moderate fan. I've listened to most of his commercial output and large swaths of his informal output, and there are parts of his catalog I know word for word. There are also huge parts I don't know at all. I intend to discuss both the familiar and the new (to me). If that paints me as ignorant of history, you can go read commentary on Lil Wayne songs from someone else. This is as much a chance for me to dive deeper into the catalog of one of my favorite artists as it is anything. It's also an homage to the idea of the music blog when that, as a concept, is falling out of style.
And then, too, it's an homage to Lil Wayne at a time when he is simultaneously at risk of fading away and could not be more current. Wayne has been in the news recently for his ongoing legal struggle with Birdman and Cash Money, even prompting a retirement scare a couple weeks ago when he tweeted about his frustration with the case. Yet as that suit continues, frustrating Weezy and ostensibly keeping his new music to trickle, Wayne's influence is being keenly felt, from the way Lil Uzi Vert presents himself as a rock star (Wayne did it first) to the way Young Thug seems to discover a new dimension of the human voice every time he steps in the booth (Wayne is, by Thug's own account, his only influence) to the way Drake exists (Wayne literally mentored him). Lil Wayne will always matter; right now is as good a time as any to appreciate him.
Today is my 28th birthday, so it's the beginning of a new year in a few ways. At 28, Lil Wayne had already reinvented himself multiple times and was already past what many of his fans consider his prime. On his birthday in 2010, he was in prison at Rikers Island, with two months left to serve. Twenty-eight was what, in sports, might be called a rebuilding year for Lil Wayne, but it was by no means unsuccessful. It yielded Sorry 4 Tha Wait and Tha Carter IV, the latter of which nearly matched Tha Carter III's as-yet-unreplicated feat for a rap album of selling a million copies in its first week (Drake's Views technically did it with streams this year, but otherwise only Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and Adele have done better since). There was also some weird shit in there! Maybe we'll get to it at some point. Maybe, like Wayne at 28, I'm just heading off in a weird direction that will end with me peddling glorified Zubaz pants. Who knows! I'm just excited to write about Lil Wayne, and, as the man himself once said, I don't O U like two vowels. That's why I'm doing this cop out post about "A Milli," the best Lil Wayne song, that doesn't spend enough time discussing its history or arguing why it's the best or even bringing up Cory Gunz. Here's to discovering the actual best Lil Wayne song (hint: for me it's not "A Milli"). Here's to a potentially bad idea. Here's to popping these blog posts like Orville Redenbacher.
Photo: Screengrab of the "A Milli" video via YouTube
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