Lil' Wayne's World

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Dear Mr. Wayne,

I am such a fan. Really. But I am getting ahead of myself. Male groupies are kind of embarrassing … What I mean to say is that I find your move to a more singing, spoken word form of rap very, very exciting.


For example, from "A Milli" on "Tha Carter III":

…and you n***** is what I eatin' I'll make sure of it/ and he who don't believe me I'll make dessert of him/ sherbet him, I mean/ shame on him, or her/ Carter, Father of/ this rap thang, this is my race/ gon' take a lap man Weezy baby's nursery/ now gon' take a nap man,/ it's nap time/ I'll holla back at you at snack time


Here's what else I love about you, Mr. Wayne: You are ghetto—brazenly so. And, increasingly, so is the world. Seriously, I don't mean to mock shantytowns, trench towns, barter towns … houses on trash heaps, in dried-up riverbeds, in caves, in the Bronx. It's one big Favela World.

What I'm saying is that the connections between these de-gentrified hinterlands across the globe has never been so close. All of us, connected by violence, drugs, broken homes, sickness, abuse, abuse by police, but also flavor.

Flavor and swagger have been the salvation of Favela World. Going without means can make the mind a mighty tool. That is why we have to listen to the ghetto, to the favela, to tell us where we're at, what we doing wrong, how to get it right.

Mr. Wayne, that's why your voice has become so urgent, so necessary. To quote the legendary rapper Rob Base, in life there is "Joy and Pain," and I think you cover both very well. "Bling Bling" for instance: celebratory. A true classic. "Georgia … Bush," your Katrina-diss, keeps it real, however.


While "Tha Carter III" retreats from musical daring of its predecessor, the productions you've chosen for your raps as of late, Mr. Wayne, continue the challenging percussive frenzy we heard during your days with Cash Money and the Hot Boys. The beats are increasingly difficult, seemingly random and haphazard.

But there is clearly a system to the tracks, and the beats are typically on time, seldom offbeat. Like fellow Louisianan beatmaker Mouse on tha Track, your songs are cleverly calculated to sound arrhythmic but highly syncopated at the same time. Tracks like the ethereal "Lollipop" or "Whip It" push these beat techniques to new levels incorporating dance hall, Reggaetón, house, electro, all manner of digital dance musics, let's call them here. Well, you do come from New Orleans, I was recently reminded, so let's just say you are representing the birthplace of jazz well.

As far as an international flare, I commend you for savvily incorporating aural elements from world pop musics of today. The drum sounds borrow from dance hall, the cheap electronic beats from pop dance music (think European dance-exercise music, the Don't-you-wish-your-girlfriends of the world) … nice work on jacking the synths. At first I didn't like it, but now I appreciate the re-appropriation. And let me commend you on the tweaked Cher-like vocals. The Jamaicans did it first (see Tanto Metro & Devonte, or T.O.K. circa 2003), but hey, why not. And those soccer klaxons … well, just please keep it to no more than three blasts per song.

On to your unique vocal style and wordplay, which has been the belabored subject of the criticism leveled at you. So you are no longer rapping. Is there a problem here? Where in the rule book for Pro Tools does it state that once a rapper always a rapper. Look at Lyrics Born, Snoop and T-Pain. T-PAIN!

Mr. Wayne, on tracks like "Duffle Bag Boy," you are not just not rapping, and also rapping, and also not singing, but also singing … are also speaking words, i.e. you are performing spoken word, in the fine tradition of Saul Williams or John Lee Hooker, for instance.

Sure, the rhyme schemes can be truly elementary, but so was "Rapper's Delight." What you do, Mr. Wayne, brings to mind our great rap hero James Brown. Imagine how those accustomed to the silky voice of a Nat Cole or Harry Belafonte reacted to the ecstatic hollers of Mr. Brown flipping out onto the stage in the 1950s.

Mr. Wayne, you combine crunk chants, one-liner snaps, petty rhymes and Juvenile's je ne sais quoi to produce a new level of performance. Inflection is key, whether emanating from your tongue or Auto-Tune. Teeth sucking, whining, laughing, oh yes, Mr. Wayne, your abuse of rap conventions is truly playful. Impressive, but also, sir, what is key to your music is performance.

So I applaud your music, Mr. Wayne. No, not every song or lyric, but its spirit. Its soul. You have brought something new to the aesthetic. And you are not alone.


The ghetto speaks through techno-inflected dub reggae of the UK dj Benga. Singer M.I.A. celebrates "Boyz" with all that clang and thump of 2 Live Crew and Saigon pop. Deize Tigrona does it in Brazil. The dance music centers of Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore have collapsed the distinctions between house, bass and techno. Some call it booty music, which it surely is, but it is one that does not hold to the strict beat interpretations of those former forms. Dizzee Rascal's endless stream of East-End English embraces all manner of crooked bass, reggae and industrial rock. Santogold, another within the nebula of Gershwin-like producer Diplo, signifies within a new style of indie rock-cum-Kraftwerk with vocals somewhere between Ronnie Spector and Sister Nancy. In the pop world Estelle mixes American R&B with acid jazz and patois. And there's more …

It is good company, Mr. Wayne, and though I am not sure of your official connection to these boundary-destroying black and brown artists, you are all unified in that you speak for the Favela World.

Now let the ridicule inspire waves of imitation. As for the haters, I quote, "I'm blind to you."

Reggie Royston is a writer and musician living in Oakland, Calif. He's currently a Ph.D. student in African Diaspora Studies at University of California, Berkeley studying racial identity and technology.

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