What Can the 'Carter III' Leaks Tell Us About the Actual 'Carter III'?

Was the leaked album actually better?

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Aug 29 2017, 10:58pm

Illustration by Michael Alcantara

Day 344: "Scarface" – The Drought Is Over 2 (The Carter 3 Sessions), 2007

There's a popular opinion among certain Lil Wayne fans, generally the curmudgeonly rap head kind who want you to know that they were there first, that the 2007 leak of Tha Carter III irreparably damaged the final product. Beloved fan favorites like "La La La," "I Feel Like Dying," and "Prostitute Flange" never made any kind of retail release and have, as a result, been scrubbed from the official historical record that you might find by searching for Lil Wayne's music on Apple Music or Spotify. There's pretty much no doubt in my mind that including the aforementioned songs could have made Tha Carter III better, but I also think that it's a flawed dogma to insist that the leaked version of the album was superior.

The leak—which exists in two very slightly different forms as either the one I had, The Carter III Mixtape, or as part of the The Empire's running leak series, The Drought Is Over 2 (The Carter 3 Sessions)—offers an interesting view of what Tha Carter III might have been versus what it became, a shift that can be easily understood when you look at the volume at which Wayne was recording during this period. The final album skews more obviously pop, thanks to songs like "Lollipop" and "Ms. Officer," which turned out to be a smart bet and is likely reflective of the direction Wayne's own interests were headed. I don't know if anything could have derailed the sales of Tha Carter III given the juggernaut that Wayne was at the time, but it certainly didn't hurt that it had a wide breadth of sounds, that it presented the version of Wayne that casual listeners were discovering and would continue to discover on radio. Those hits foreshadowed Wayne's career over the next couple years, as he put a stranglehold on the pop charts with feature appearances.

In retrospect, that shift was obvious and necessary to create the Lil Wayne we all know and love today, the Lil Wayne that appeals to fans across the spectrum. But to a fan of Tha Carter II, that direction was indeed a shift. It wasn't as though the Lil Wayne of 2005 was incapable of making hit songs, but they were a different type of hit. Tha Carter III could have been a continuation of this approach, and the leaks show that it nearly was. There's a reason why many die-hard fans prefer those leaks.

A song like "Scarface" is the kind of breakneck, gangster rap lyrical exercise that Wayne had perfected on Tha Carter II and Like Father, Like Son. It plays to his base and does very little to expand it. Listen to his cadence on the opening bars—"They know where Carter at / straight off the launching pad / marchin' on the moon, motherfucker / I been to Mars and back"—or the way that he pounces on the syllables of the second verse, exulting in internal rhymes:

Six degrees, leaning on that prometh-th-th-th-thazine
I'm a centipede, these men move at women speed
I'm 'bout my spinach, cheese, dough, cheddar, fetti, guap
Money, moolah, mozzarella, et cetera, et cetera
Fuck competitors, fuck these rappers, fuck these editors
Fuck the head of the state, fuck the gates surroundin' the prisoners
These motherfuckers the prey, I'm the predator

That's a perfect example of Lil Wayne's rap skills at their most technically adept. It's awesome—in the literal, awe-inspiring sense—to listen to, but it's also a bit dizzying. More importantly, the hook to "Scarface" is totally forgettable. A rap nerd has every reason to think that the second verse of "Scarface" is one of the most incredible verbal performances ever, but there are a hundred other forgotten Wayne verses that are just as incredible. That doesn't discount the value of the work. It just puts in perspective how Wayne may have dodged a bullet by taking a less virtuosic approach on the final version of Tha Carter III. We already knew Wayne could rap, and how many people remember songs like "Over Here Hustlin'" as compared to songs like "Phone Home"?

The Carter III leaks imagine Tha Carter III as a more direct continuation of the Carter series; the final result was something far more elaborate. Whether that was better for Wayne's core fans is a matter of debate, but it certainly was a smart commercial decision and a telling artistic choice. The leaks allow us to see the shift in direction and understand that choice for exactly what it was.

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