The Last Mega-Seller
Compared with the tortured history of Chinese Democracy, the almost three years it took Lil Wayne to follow up Tha Carter II look like a model of recording efficiency. But thanks to a series of brilliant mix tapes, half-finished demo leaks, and pushed-back release dates, no musician faced more pressure this year (we gave up on Axl a long time ago). Could Wayne finally create the classic album everybody believed he had in him? Had he wasted all his best verses on songs that were never officially released? Would his apparently escalating affinity for drugs derail his singularly eccentric flow? Would the album ever actually come out? Tha Carter III answered all questions, ruling both Harlem street corners—the song of the summer was the endlessly covered freestyle anthem “A Milli”—and the charts with a painstakingly sequenced, big-tent mix of styles. Full-on club bangers? Check. Sensitive acoustic-guitar-flecked tunes for the ladies? Check. Mid-nineties hip-hop classicism? Check. Weird astro-black Futurism? A Beyoncé answer song? A killer guest vocal from R&B singer Betty Wright? Check. Check. Check. Few hip-hop albums go platinum these days, let alone sell 2.7 million copies. Fewer still feel like a major cultural event.