How Tha Carter III came to be "the most anticipated rap album of 2008" is a story that involves the usual delays and promises of a masterpiece, plus a whole lot of bullet points that could only exist in the absurd world of Lil Wayne. There's his complete annihilation of the mixtape game, the ridiculous amount of guest shots he granted since Tha Carter II made him a hip-hop superstar, that photograph of him kissing his mentor, Birdman, rumors of addiction to the sizzurp, plus the gargantuan ego and aggravating aloofness (Wayne will ignore all incoming beefs and infuriate challengers even further by offering the lethal "I don't listen to your records"). His "best rapper alive" quote is discussed to death, but if that claim includes creating perfectly crafted full-lengths in a 2Pac style, the evidence won't be found here. Tha Carter III is instead a surprisingly casual album that takes numerous listens to sort out, and only part of a puzzle that is scattered across mixtapes, guest shots, and Internet leaks. Had he included another easy-access single like "Rider" from The Drought Is Over, Pt. 4 -- just one of his mixtape series that made it to a Pt. 5 -- the "classic" argument could be considered, but figuring out what to sacrifice from this high-grade jumble is difficult. It wouldn't be the electro-bumpin' "Lollipop," an infectious track that contains the wonderfully Wayne line "I told her to back it up/Like burp, burp." You certainly wouldn't want to lose key cut "Phone Home," where the maverick adopts an alien voice and drops "I could get your brains for a bargain/Like I bought it from Target." Another Weezy special from way outside the hip-hop universe comes in the striking "Dr. Carter," when the football reference "And you ain't Vince Young/So don't clash with the Titan" dances on a David Axelrod sample and an unexpected jazzy production from Swizz Beatz. Giant meets giant when Jay-Z stops by for the velvet-smooth hangout session "Mr. Carter," and with Babyface laying the stylish swagger all over "Comfortable," Wayne gets the opportunity to convincingly vibe in the land of true class. Just like on Tha Carter II, Robin Thicke ends up the most complementary guest, coating Wayne's post-Katrina tale "Tie My Hands" in warm buttery soul. As the track flows from political commentary ("My whole city's underwater, some people still floatin'/And they wonderin' why black people still votin'/Cuz your President's still chokin'") to despair and onto some moving "keep your head up"-styled verse, it proves Wayne can go deep and connect with his audience if he chooses. You can fault him for not connecting enough on the album and further complicating his unmanageable body of work with this disjointed effort, but Wayne's true masterpiece is the bigger picture and how he's flipped the script since the first Carter rolled out. Filled with bold, entertaining wordplay and plenty of well-executed, left-field ideas, Tha Carter III should be considered as a wild, somewhat difficult child of Weezy's magnum opus in motion, one that allows the listener an exhilarating and unapologetic taste of artistic freedom.
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AllMusic Review by David Jeffries