It's 2007 - and hip hop is nothing without Lil Wayne.
Rap needs a leading man, always has. An artist against whom all others are measured. Securing the spot requires a keen combination of skill, marketability, controversy, and luck. That Dwayne "Lil Wayne" Carter would become that man was never a sure thing. As a member of the Hot Boys, he didn't much stand out, and his early solo career remains easily overlooked. He's not traditionally handsome. He's from the South, and it's been easy, for some fans and critics, to not give the South its due.
But Lil Wayne possesses an unquantifiable charisma. And he's the perfect artist to own this time, when album sales are bunk and only sheer bombast and constant reinvention reign supreme. He's a symbiote attached to this rapidly changing game - as it moves, he moves. Since the formal announcement of his dominance - his fourth album, Tha Carter (Cash Money, 2004) - no MC has been so fierce, so alluring, so present.
His predecessors in greatness arrived in different ways. At the end of the '80s, as hip hop began to find its voice, Rakim embodied power and precision-packed heat. At the same time, Ice Cube was galvanizing the hip hop world with radical social sensibility. The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur emerged with different gifts - humor and gritty storytelling, respectively - to take the crown. In the years following Biggie and 'Pac's tragic murders, Jay-Z, a true formalist, carried hip hop into its new-money era, and Eminem translated hip hop for pop America.
This year Wayne has hit his stride, releasing an almost unfathomable amount of music. It seems that every morning a new mixtape, freestyIe, or feature has popped onto the Web, turning the mediocre meanderings of any number of artists into must-listens. Wayne does so easily, without ceremony over his craft or attitudinal tics - just a trust in his wildly malleable croak, a voice that has become unparalleled in recognizability, and an odd fascination with the absurd. Wayne calls himself an alien, raps in French, sings from his knees, plays guitar (badly), and records endlessly. Because he knows this is his moment. He is what he says he is: The Best Rapper Alive. Hear, hear!
1. DJ Khaled feat. Akon, T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Baby, and Lil Wayne - "We Takin' Over" from We The Best (KOCH)
Sure, it's only one verse - but what a verse. Cleverly slotted last on the song, it opens with such verve - "I am the beast / Feed me rappers or feed me beats!" - it demands repeat recitations.
2. "Dough Is What I Got" from DJ Khaled's Da Drought 3
Officially wrestling the crown from Jay-Z on his own ****, Wayne reimagines "Show Me What You Got" as a lyrical battering ram. "I must be LeBron James if he's Jordan," he says. The baton has been passed.
3. "Prostitute Flange" from The Empire's Tha Carter 3 Sessions
The most unconventional and feeling moment of Wayne's career, in which he declares his love for a woman, who "was a prostitute." Vulnerable and virile at once.
4. "Ride For My *****s" from DD3
Resurrecting the beat from Mike Jones' "Mr. Jones," this is Wayne's most anthemic moment. A rallying cry for his movement, he raps, "**** your hospital, Young Money, we the illest."
5. "Live From the 504" from DD3
Still doing more with the gifts of others, Wayne rips Young Dro's "Shoulder Lean." In a dazzling daze, he famously spit this freestyIe on BET's Rap City.
6. "La La La" from The Empire's Tha Carter 3 Sessions
Initially tabbed as the first single for The Carter 3, this is Wayne's bid for pop success. Children's voices tra-la-la while Wayne pays thanks to his native Hollygrove Projects.
7. "Black Republican" feat. Juelz Santana from DD3
This is unadulterated glee - the verses are less than writerly, but there's so much joy in the interplay between these old friends it's indisputably fun.
8. Swizz Beatz feat. Lil Wayne, R. Kelly, and Jadakiss - "It's Me, *****es (Remix)" from One Man Band Man (Universal)
As unhinged a guest spot as he's done, Wayne spits faux French, affects a reggae patois, and turns the phrase "jump-off" into some sort of homonym mind****. Unforgettable.
9. Lloyd feat. Lil Wayne - "You" from Street Love (The Inc./Universal)
Always a master of the arresting R&B guest verse, this is the best of Lothario Weezy. Lloyd owes Wayne a debt of gratitude for making him relevant.
10. "Upgrade U" from DD3
More shades of Jay-Z imitation and adulation here as Wayne weaves around the Beyonce track of the same name. Metaphors abound: "Big stacks, my pockets on creatine!" he exclaims.
11. Ja Rule feat. Lil Wayne - "Uh Oh" from The Mirror (The Inc./Universal)
More thanks necessary, as Wayne turns this electrifying heater into the comeback Ja so desperately needed.
12. "Promise" from DD3
In what sounds like a creepily sweet advance toward Ciara, whose song of the same name is used for the beat here, Wayne opens his heart and asks for her hand. Fascinatingly weird and honest.
13. "I Feel Like Dying" from TCS3
Even stranger and scarier, this is Wayne's drug moment. Over a chipmunk loop whimpering "Only when the drugs are done, I feel like dying," Wayne muses in regard to all manner of narcotic trips. He says he'll "eat a star" - and we believe him.
14. "Help" from TCS3
Is this the cry for relief that could only follow "I Feel Like Dying"? Not quite, as Wayne brazenly jacks 1965 The Beatles track for a double-time boasting session.
15. "Did It Before" from TCS3
Another possible Carter 3 cut produced by Kanye West. Over what sounds like vintage A Tribe Called Quest, Wayne pulls off a weirdly captivating exercise of he said/she said back-and-forth about who got with who, when, and why.
16. "Pray To The Lord" from Big Mike's The Drought Is Over 3 (Who Is The Predator)
The most openly messianic moment of the year for Wayne, begging forgiveness for his sins. "I can't go to hell, cuz I'd take over," he utters casually.
17. Birdman feat. Lil Wayne - "Championship Pop Bottles" from Five Star General (Cash Money)
Recalling the best moments of their underrated 2006 album Like Father, Like Son (Cash Money), Wayne and Baby are at their braggadocious and brilliant best.
18. Kanye West feat. Lil Wayne - "Barry Bonds" from Graduation (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
Surprisingly outshined by West at times here, it's almost refreshing to hear Wayne take a back seat. He dominates with bombast so often, we forget laying in the cut suits him, too.
19. "Something You Forgot" from TCS3
"I know I ****ed up, I admit I ****ed up." More signs of Wayne's under-acknowledged emotional side; here he yearns for a lost lover over an ecstatic Heart sample.
20. "Zoo" feat. Mack Maine from TCS3
Weird and wonderful use of negative space from Rockwilder on this spare shooting range. Wayne and his protege take aim with punchlines, punchlines, punchlines.
And the rest...
77. Fall Out Boy feat. Gym CIass Heroes, Tyga, Paul Wall, Skinhead Rob, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne - "This Ain't a Scene, It's An Arms Race (Remix)" from mixtapes
76. "Target Practice" from mixtapes
75. "How You Like Me Now" from TC3S
74. "What He Does" from TC3S
73. Enrique Iglesias feat. Lil Wayne - "Push" from Insomniac (Interscope)
72. "King Kong" from DD3
71. DJ Khaled feat. Lil Wayne, and Baby - "'S' On My Chest"from We The Best (KOCH)
70. Cool Kids feat. Lil Wayne - "Getting It" from DJ Benzi's Get Right Radio
69. Wyclef Jean feat. Akon, Nia & Lil Wayne - "Sweetest Girl"
from The Carnival 2 (Sony)
68. Twista feat. Lil Wayne - "Whip Game Proper" from Adrenaline Rush 2007(Atlantic)
67. "White Girl" from TDIO
66. "Swizzy (Remix)" from DD3
65. Playaz Circle feat. Lil Wayne - "Duffle Bag Boyz" from Playaz Circle's untitled forthcoming album (DTP/Def Jam)
64. Timbaland feat. One Republic, Bun B & Lil Wayne - "Apologize (Remix)" from mixtapes
63. "I'm a Beast" from TC3S
62. "Beat Without Bass" from TDIO
61. "Outro" (Disc 2) from DD3
60. Gym CIass Heroes feat. Lil Wayne "Viva La White Girl (Remix)"
59. Fabolous feat. Lil Wayne - "Diamonds" (Original Version) from Mixtapes
58. DJ Khaled feat. Young Jeezy, Juelz Santana, Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Lil Wayne, and Dre - "Brown Paper Bag" from We The Best (KOCH)
57. "Put Some Keys On That" from DD3
56. "Boom" from DD3
55. "Crazy" from DD3
54. "I'm Raw" from TDIO
53. **** MVP" from TC3S
52. "I Know the Future" feat. Mack Maine from TC3S
51. "N.O. *****" from DD3
50. "New Cash Money" feat. Brisco from DD3
49. MIMS feat. DJ Unk, Twista, R. Kelly, Lil Wayne, and Marques Houston - "This Is Why I'm Hot (Remix)" from mixtapes
48. "Back On My Grizzy" feat. Currency from DD3
47. "Diamonds & Girls" feat. Currency from TC3S
46. "Time For Us to ****" from TC3S
45. Shop Boyz feat. Lil Wayne - "Party Like a Rockstar (Remix)" from TDIO
44. "I'm Blooded" from DD3
43. "Don't Stop, Won't Stop" feat. Nikki Menage from DD3
42. "Microphone Fiend" from Big Mike's Addicted to the Game 4
41. Fat Joe feat. T.I., R. Kelly, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, and Baby - "Make It Rain (Remix)" from mixtapes
40. "Dipset" from DD3
39. "World of Fantasy" from TC3S
38. "My House" Feat. Currency from TDIO
37. "We Takin' Over (Remix)" from DD3
36. "Forever" from DD3
35. "Killing Me" from TDIO
34. "Seat Down Low" from DD3
33. Bentley Fonzworth feat. Pimp C, and Lil Wayne - "C.O.L.O.U.R.S."
from Kanye West's Can't Tell Me Nothing mixtape
32. "Walk It Out" from DD3
31. "President" from DD3
30. "Tell Me You Need Me" feat. Bun B from TDIO
29. "Scarface" from TC3S
28. "Screwed Up" from TDIO
27. "I Can't Feel My Face" from DD3
26. Chris Brown feat. Lil Wayne, and Juelz Santana - "Poppin' (Remix)"
25. "Dipset 2" from DD3
24. "Get It Shawty" from TC3S
23. "Dear Lord" from TDIO
22. "Get High, Rule The World" from DD3
21. Devin the Dude feat. Lil Wayne, Bun B - "Lil Girl Gone" from Waitin' To Inhale (Rap-A-Lot)