Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter III" Turns 15

Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter III" proved his hoarse voice could through any sound, resulting in his most influential hip-hop album to date.

BYCaleb Hardy
2018 Astroworld Festival

Fifteen years since the release of Tha Carter III, Lil Wayne steadfastly downplays the personal significance of the album. “I’m going to be so honest with you: I don’t know Tha Carter IIITha Carter IITha Carter One from Tha Carter IV. And that’s just my God’s honest truth,” he told Rolling Stone. However, it's not because Wayne doesn't care for the project. Known as a hip-hop workhorse, the 40-year-old creates a double-digit amount of songs daily. By constantly being in a creative flow, he moves on from his classic work rather than ruminate on it. In fact, he's released over 20 albums and mixtapes in the past 15 years.

During the beginning of Lil Wayne's career, the New Orleans kid got stranger and stranger with every album. Nine years after the release of his debut solo LP, he treated fans with Tha Carter III. The project feels like a culmination of a lifetime of sonic experimentation and pen-related hustle game. Lil Wayne certainly wasn't going to compromise now. Rather than churn out a vast collection of chart-friendly hits, he opts for complex metaphors and intricate emotional commentary. Of course, this isn't to say Tha Carter III was some underground project. It sold over a million copies in a week, going Platinum eight times over. Lil Wayne purposefully released tracks on the internet leading up to the project, creating a mountain of anticipation.

Lil Wayne Wanted To Create Timeless Music

Preceding Tha Carter III, Wayne appeared on OutKast's shaky Idlewild album. Even if "Hollywood Divorce" was featured on a cast of inconsistent tracks, Lil Wayne stated, "Gotta work every day / Gotta not be cliche / Gotta stand out like Andre 3K." The statement was preluding for the record, as Tha Carter III was his most sonically ambitious and emotionally revealing album. On "3 Peat" and "Shoot Me Down," he muses on gun-related incidents that each nearly took his life. The sun-seeking "Comfortable" features an earworm hook from Babyface, a stark contrast to the menacing banger that is "A Milli."

Wayne's impossibly hoarse voice cuts through every sonic pallet thrown at him on Tha Carter III. The 25-year-old pulls out an astoundingly consistent project, even sticking the landing on moments where he's conceivably taking the most far-fetched risks possible. If there were any conceived limitations regarding Lil Wayne's creative limits, they were thrown out the window with Tha Carter III. That is, as long as you don't hand him a guitar on stage. "Lollipop" sounds as if it was recorded on an intergalactic spaceship, undeniably being one of the most jarring hip-hop songs to ever end up on the Billboard Hot 100. "Let The Beat Build" crescendos into a meandering banger, with Wayne declaring, "I'm in the best rapper alive!"

Tha Carter III Set The Blueprint For MCs

Lil Wayne had been declaring himself the best rapper alive since signing to Cash Money Records in the late '90s, releasing street mixtapes that defined his early '00s. Of course, he was nowhere near the best rapper at the time. However, that sort of unabashed confidence inspired a tireless work effort that would eventually separate him from the pack. Even in 2023, he still holds himself to that standard since his peak relevancy has long passed. With Tha Carter III, Wayne proved he could hold his own throughout an entire studio project rather than the grimy mixtape format. While Tha Carter and Tha Carter II certainly had their collection of hits, Tha Carter III solidified Lil Wayne's timeless stardom.

Tha Carter III is Lil Wayne's legacy-defining album. It blends all elements of his best musical qualities into one experience. This isn't to say that it's a perfect album. The trilogy occasionally meanders and has a handful of tracks that pale compared to the highlights. However, Weezy's discography has always been a continuous stream of consciousness. Before and after Tha Carter III, he continued to release music. His creative process simply isn't tailor-made for a tightly knitted project. To this day, he creates, releases, and creates again. Reflection isn't in the recipe for Lil Wayne's continued relevance. Tha Carter III's remnants still exist in rap's overarching umbrella of MCs to this day. Bold, genre-bending, and chart-topping, it's an album that any hip-hop artist aspires to one day create.


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