Lil Wayne Is Rapping Better Than Your Favorite Rapper Still, Now, in 2017

Listen to his delivery on "Fireworks."

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Aug 2 2017, 10:44pm

Illustration by Michael Alcantara

Day 315: "Fireworks" feat. Jeezy – single, 2017

I woke up this morning to a text from old my old colleague Kim, who told me that she had just seen Lil Wayne perform after Dave Chappelle. Wayne, like Chappelle, is someone who was entertaining people in the early 2000s and thus has a fan base—emphasis on a because Wayne has at least three or four distinct fan bases from different eras of his career—that is solidly in their 30s, like he is. But Wayne is old enough now that he also has his share of young detractors (something Kim also went on to observe on Twitter). Although I clearly disagree with them, I can see how kids who came of age around, say, I Am Not a Human Being 2, might feel like Wayne is overhyped. If you're 17, you've only ever known a time when Wayne was past his prime, which occurred when you were seven years old. That audience is one reason I've been writing about Lil Wayne for a year!

But the good news for those who wrote Lil Wayne off because there was cooler music like Playboi Carti to listen to instead is that Lil Wayne is actually making great music right now. I probably sound like an old person, and I guess I have to deal with that. But as I've argued before, Lil Wayne's long night in the wilderness of making garbage songs about poop and sucking dicks in Auto-Tune was sort of like that period where Tiger Woods sucked ass at golf because he decided to retool his swing and then came back and won a ton of tournaments. Wayne is a better rapper right now than he's ever been.

His mid-2000s run saw him dueling with his own powers of free-association and trying out his voice as a percussion instrument, while his late-2000s run found him floating off into realms of melody and sound to make the weirdest stuff he could. In the early 2010s, he became obsessed with stripping songs down to their pop essentials. Recently, he's been pulling all these things together, with the kind of comfortable ease that you can only get from recording literally thousands of songs over literally two decades. His most recent experiments see him bopping around in new cadences, rapping with conversational casualness and rapid-fire explosiveness as required, dipping through melodies with practiced, almost tossed-off ease.

Listen to the laid-back way he starts his verse here, his almost distracted invocation of "whip it like a big booty bitch, like a cup of coffee with a spoon in it." And then take in the ease of his flow here, the way it sounds like he's just kind of like rattling off a grocery list—that "hey, by the way, were you thinking maybe we should make enchiladas and if so grab some extra shredded cheese" way he brings up that the girl he's talking about is a professional stripper:

Use the black card to split the coke
Jungle fever, cheatin' on the Visa
Speakin' of jungle, bitch work at Cheetahs
Had stripes since my first Adidas
Bought pints now I purchase liters
Shark bite, I'm a person eater
Walk light on the dirt beneath you
I'm in the throne and you in the bleachers

And you know what else? That delivery is so smooth it's masking the fact that each and every line is a punchline, or at least a clever turn of phrase. This is one of Lil Wayne's favorite things to do—and a large part, I think, of why he is often overlooked as an MC now that he so frequently does these types of sing-song bars. In the next verse, for example, he'll go on in a breezy Auto-Tune to reference cutting off someone's head and arms like a piece of ancient Greek sculpture (a statue of Aphrodite to be exact). It's all smooth, unbothered, totally composed.

You might think Lil Wayne is old and washed—hell, he even threatens, "Get off my lawn, cuttin' on the sprinklers." But as far as being old and telling you to get off his lawn, there are few better ways to do it than by spitting a verse that should make a young rapper trip over his own feet trying to get out of the way. There is almost nobody who can rap with Wayne's total control of both the sound and message of his lines. So yeah, run this back, and tell me again that Lil Wayne isn't back on a roll.

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