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Happy Birthday to 'Tha Carter'

Walk in and walk out of Lil Wayne's 2004 classic.

Day 281: "Walk In" / "Walk Out" – Tha Carter, 2004

It was all preordained, the moment Dwayne Michael Carter finally got through on the phone to the Cash Money brothers, Baby and Slim, who he'd been calling for weeks—they were New Jack City in the Crescent City, dope pushers with a vision of an empire built around a Carter. You couldn't write it better in a movie. Tha Carter was a movie.

It's easy to forget, with all that came later—Tha Carters II and III and IV and especially the much-maligned and yet-to-arrive V—that Lil Wayne's fourth album, the first of his flagship series, is a concept album of sorts. The Carter in question is not in fact Dwayne but actually an apartment complex, Lil Wayne's refracted vision of the one that Nino Brown runs. I'm sure there's some architectural theorist out there with papers about the ways physical space mirrors psychological space, but in absence of the academy's take on it we can rely on Lil Wayne's.


"Let me show you my building," he suggests, already running ahead to give the tour, indulging in the type of descriptive imagery of drug dealing and project hallways that was rare for him but familiar to fans of another Carter, Shawn. The comparison from detractors would haunt Wayne for years while the comparison from fans would simultaneously animate him. After all, as he mentioned in a different part of the building tour, he was the best rapper alive since—wait, we're getting off topic here. Let's stay on the tour, where on the left you'll see…

Front door, living room young nigga switching weed
What you need? Get you crack, get you weed
Make your way to the back, look ahead and see
White bitch in the bathroom giving head for speed

In the kitchen, the "witches keep it brewin'" and drugs and voodoo mix in equal parts. Almost before we've begun, though, Wayne seems to lose interest in the tour. Promising to "show you the rest of the house later," he turns his attention "upstairs," which leads into more tracks and more chances to explore rooms of Wayne's mind.

The album makes more sense as a concept album in the way that the songs break down easily into different tropes: the song about drugs, the one about guns, the one about snitches, the one about DJs, the one where Al Green is playing, etc. Tha Carter is like a gallery of Wayne's various rap proclivities, honed meticulously over three preceding albums and the entire Sqad Up series. The written word was thrown out in 10,000 Bars of exorcism, and what is left is a series of rooms showing different scenes from the movie of Lil Wayne—an impressionistic tableau, a physical space to be explored rather than a document to be consumed.

Tha Carter stands as the opening of a new era for Lil Wayne because it is such a reimagining of space. In order to reach the atmospheric, heady plane on which Lil Wayne of Da Drought 3 is operating, you have to conceive of rap a little differently, as an exercise of the mind rather than simply a vessel for beats and rhymes. Tha Carter is an entryway into that mindset. You walk in, and you see what all is to be found, and you walk back out. You leave knowing Lil Wayne in terms that leave no doubt as to his ambitions for the English language. "I say I'm at your throat," he warns, bringing this chapter to a close. "This was Tha Carter, slam the door."

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