Tha Carter III–Lil Wayne 

(Cash Money/Universal/Motown)

Lil Wayne may well be the "greatest rapper alive," but he's never made a wholly undeniable album, and that includes this 77-minute career-best. Wayne's records are short on the kind of idea-man concepts that have animated some of hip-hop's best album artists from Run-DMC and Public Enemy to Outkast and Kanye West. He's in the pure MC tradition of Rakim and Jay-Z, and his daring stream-of-consciousness flow is rhyme-for-rhyme's sake, full of playful vocal detours, jokes, and unexpected juxtapositions. Vocally, Wayne is Al Green to Jay-Z's Sinatra, a contrast that comes through sharply when the two heavyweights pair up on "Mr. Carter." Jay-Z is strong, supple, confidant. Wayne is idiosyncratic, obscure, versatile.

But just because his oddball rhymes don't always cohere into focused songs doesn't mean Wayne has nothing to say or that his force of personality doesn't shine through: The object of his sexual fantasies is a female cop) not because he's got kinky tastes but because it allows him to make a Geto Boys reference while dropping a "fuck the police" joke. He practices laconic, sarcastic surgery on sucker MCs, and his Katrina verse (on "Tie My Hands") is both funny and righteous. ("Mr. Carter," "Tie My Hands," "Mrs. Officer," "Let That Beat Build") — CH

Grade: A-

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