Day 67: "Phone Home" – Tha Carter 3 , 2008
How's this for a Black Friday sale:
I could get your brains for a bargain
Like I bought it from Target
Hip-hop is my supermarket
Shopping cart full of fake hip-hop artists
People around the country are knocking down the doors of big box retailers while others are decrying commercialism and still others are using the day for protest (while somehow the right wing, which finds a way to complain about everything except actual racism, is managing to make said protests about persecution of white people yet again). But here at A Year of Lil Wayne, talking about Target means that we need to be talking about this lyric, one of those Lil Wayne moments that leaves such a distinct impression that, well, here we are talking about it eight years later. Here's why: Great writers have a way of making ideas that have been bouncing around in your head all suddenly snap into place and seem coherent, as if their ideas had been yours all along. This set of lines is a perfect example. You knew that Wayne was way better than all the other rappers, he'd said it to you in a hundred different ways already, but there was something that lined up in particular when he compared his rivals to bargain-bin merchandise and then when the beat cut out for him to say his shopping cart was filled with fake hip-hop artists. That image—Lil Wayne doing a supermarket sweep of hip-hop, where the rest of genre was nothing but the merchandise to be swept from the shelf—was instantly indelible. And it's so dominant that how do you even argue with it? No you're the boxed mac and cheese of rap, Lil Wayne? It doesn't quite have the same power. We're left, instead, to marvel, as Lil Wayne continues to feast on other rappers: "I'm starving," he says. "Sorry, I gotta eat all it."
If Lil Wayne seems eminently in control here—and look, the dude ends the song in a way you've never heard before, not with punctuation but by getting in his spaceship and hovering, so yes he is eminently in control—it's surely because this is an early example of him wresting us into the new world he has built for himself. Indeed, this is the turning point. From here on out, we know that Lil Wayne is an alien, a martian, otherworldly, not a human being. His alien rock star schtick is now all the way present. According to producers Cool and Dre, the concept came from a single line in Wayne's "Show Me What You Got" freestyle, where he said the line "we are not the same I am a martian"—as I mentioned earlier this week, part of his legacy of lines that have since entered the broader hip-hop consciousness to the point where they don't even fully belong to him anymore. In 2008, Cool told XXL, "That line really stuck with us. So [Dre and I] wanted to do a record that reflects that he's a rock star from outer space. The whole concept was that there's no real rappers left in the game and the 'hood is calling him home." The producers (who you may know more recently for their work with DJ Khaled and who also help with the hook), enlisted more or less a full orchestra to help with the beat, and they brought it to a very impressed Wayne. "We knew he was keeping it because after that it was, 'What's up with that "Phone Home?"'" Cool added. "Weezy's like, 'Oh, that's in the vault.' He kept certain records in a special vault that was unleakable, shit that he only touched."
In terms of rapping, it's not the most obvious Wayne highlight because the verses are so short, especially compared to some of the otherworldly and truly alien rapping he was doing elsewhere. Indeed, at the time, it seemed like a little bit of a cop out to me, although, once again, I knew right away that there were few endings to a song that I'd ever heard that were as cool as "get in my spaceship and hover." But every punchline here counts—whether it's the #rare image of "Mr. Clean with hair" or the Elian Gonzalez pun or the declaration about a "flow so sick make you wanna throw your food up."
Yet he laid it all out right there with a suggestion that his vision was beyond ours: "Can't get on my system 'cause my system is the solar." And sure enough, within weeks the idea of Wayne a martian was prevalent. The image would resurface in countless pieces of press and new lyrics from Wayne in the ensuing years. And his sound, too, which was already changing, would go into overdrive in terms of weirdness, following the example of "Lollipop" and taking things into truly a new spatial realm. Our understanding of Wayne as he is today would not exist without this song, which seems totally insane. After all, on a completely different level, this is classic throwaway album filler, a concept track based around a line from the movie E.T. How many dumb rap songs about big budget movies have been lost to the annals of history? Meanwhile this one has gone on to remake Lil Wayne's entire brand and shift the course of rap to one that celebrates extraterrestrial weirdness in the process. Weezy UFO Baby and the F is for fate-changing: unidentified fate-changing object? Sure. Happy holidays. If you're not with your family this weekend, phone home and tell them you love them.
Photo: Screenshot via Movieclips on YouTube
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