Day 91: "Intro (This Is Why I'm Hot)" – Da Drought 3 , 2007
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
— Puck, A Midsummer Night's Dream
One of the best rap albums of all time opens with the beat to the 2006 Mims hit "This Is Why I'm Hot." The album is not by Mims, nor is it even, by anyone's definition, an album. You cannot legally buy it. The beats belong entirely to artists other than the album's credited creator, and in many cases they are the sounds of legitimately huge smash hits, already guaranteed to be great courtesy of their original composers. The album is called Da Drought 3. It is by Lil Wayne.
There's a line of thinking that says Lil Wayne has never made a classic album, and, the uninterrupted greatness of Tha Block Is Hot and Tha Carter II notwithstanding, there's something to that argument, in that the official record of the moment when Wayne's talents were at their most sublime is the great but flawed Tha Carter III. Lil Wayne's classic, though, as any fan will tell you, is not a conceptual classic; it's not an album that builds a world in the way that, say, Nas's Illmatic does. Rather, it's a funhouse dedicated to the marvelous art of rapping itself, a document not so much of musical songcraft as of a virtuosic mind set free to roam and deconstruct the very idea of what rapping could sound like. Da Drought 3 is Wayne embracing his greatness by playing around, which, of course, is what he has always been most excited to do. It's a crime to art that legalities will ensure the mixtape is never treated as the singular achievement it is; it's a testament to art that the best work of the most commercially successful rapper of all time is a noncommercial product.
Lil Wayne understands that tension. He knows that the value of his work lies in its very craftsmanship, which in turn is what makes the actual work itself endure. In late 2007, in the wake of Da Drought 3, XXL interviewed him about his success, which led to the following exchange:
Is it hard to meet those expectations when you record so much material and with so many different artists? Is it hard to maintain high standards? Some people say you're what makes those songs hot—
I'm what makes the song great. You can't play "This Is Why I'm Hot" on the radio right now. They gon' call up and be like, "What the hell is that?" [Sings the hook to last winter's ubiquitous hit from Mims] This is why… That's not hot. That's old. You can play "Tha Block Is Hot." Fuck my song. You can play Destiny's Child "Soldier"! You could do that. That's okay. You could play Lloyd's "You." Chris Brown. I don't make hot music. I make great music. If I make hot music, then I been on fire for a long fuckin' time. The flame is burning out, sweetheart. I'm not hot. I'm great.
First of all, he's right. Secondly, the distinction here is clear, and it's one that Lil Wayne has clearly given thought to: After all, "This Is Why I'm Hot," his example of a song that is hot and of the moment but not great, is the song that Wayne chose to open Da Drought 3. It's a song that he considers treating as a throwaway beat, he tells us, explaining, "this was supposed to be the intro, but um, I guess I'm gonna do what y'all here for." And then he does something that I would imagine nobody thought, on first listen, they came here for: He launches into a verse in Jamaican patois, clearing his throat to declare, "rasta dem king of da jungle / dreadlock swing! down me back like Rapunzel." It's such an unexpected decision, such a weird, not-serious way to prove his greatness, that it might seem like an odd feint to open the tape.
Yet nothing could be more in Wayne's spirit than demolishing a beat in an accent chosen as much for the strangeness it lends to his voice as anything else. What follows is both resolutely weird and indisputably awesome, as Wayne careens from walking in the strip club alone and leaving with two girls to interpolating Kanye West's "Jesus Walks" via a quick jack of the sample to his murderous declaration of intent for what is about to happen in rap. He pulls up at the end of the song, offering a prologue to the rest of the tape like at the beginning of a Shakespeare play:
Hip-hop is mine now, mine what you gon' do?
I can jump on any nigga's song and make a part two
Play time for me 'cause see to me they are cartoons
How come every joint be on point like a harpoon
How come every bar stand strong like a bar stool
How come every line so raw you gon' snort two
Everything we already know about Wayne is quickly summoned up here, and, furthermore, everything we're about to see is laid out: Wayne will go on to make a "part two" of every hit he raps over on this tape, in many cases erasing all concept of the original song. Every bar will be quotable, for an entire fucking project. And best of all, in truly Puckish fashion, Wayne is laughing through all of it. Almost as soon as he's done crooning about all the rappers he's about to murder, he breaks abruptly into a jocular conversational tone. "And that is why I'm hot," he declares, gesturing back at what he just rapped, looping back around to the concept of greatness versus hotness, letting us know that the reason he's hot isn't because he made a cool song but because he just rapped something nobody could possibly imitate. "It's Da Drought 3," he says, explaining why that introduction was necessary, and then he sets it up as though he's letting us into his house, showing us to a party. "Welcome!" he cries. "Have fun."
Welcome, have fun: We're in a universe now where cool rap singles don't exist; the only thing here is madcap ideas. We are in Wayne's crazy carnival, his wondrous bazaar of ideas. We left Mims at the door, and that's exactly the point. It's hot outside, and it's cool in here. Do you have any doubt that what we're about to experience is great?
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