It’s hard to know exactly what to make of Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., a.k.a. Lil Wayne.
He’s been a professional rap artist for the entirety of his adult life, and a highly successful rap artist at that. He’s won five Grammy Awards (including Best Rap Solo Performance for ‘A Milli’), has sold over 20 million albums and 70 million digital tracks in the US alone, and has more entries on the Billboard Top 100 than Elvis Presley. That’s a lot of success.
And a lot of influence.
As no less a luminary than Kendrick Lamar put it in an interview with The Coveteur: “Lil Wayne is the greatest. Not only because of his music but also because of the culture he put behind it. It was a big part of what he was talking about, so we always hold Lil Wayne in high regards.”
If we want to consider just the influence of ‘A Milli’ in isolation, a quick YouTube search of rappers taking an informal crack at the song over producer Bangladesh’s beat will give you some idea of the scale we’re talking about here.
Lil Wayne himself is tougher to pin down, which is odd for someone who’s lived most of his life in the public light. It’s hard to discern where Dwayne Carter the person ends and Lil Wayne the character begins. He’s almost like a Jessica Rabbit figure: a living, over-the-top cartoon making his animated progress through what the rest of us think of as reality.
Matt Wilhite, writing about ‘A Milli’ in a piece for DJ Booth, says the song’s verse was “chaotic, absurd, and exactly what made Lil Wayne the most thrilling emcee in the world at the time because at no point were you sure if Wayne was the smartest or the most unhinged person in the room.”
Quick story: In the late 5th century BCE, during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, Athens decided they needed (or mabye just wanted) control of a nominally neutral island called Melos in the Aegean Sea. The Athenians informed the Melians, the people who lived on the island, that they needed to surrender to Athens or suffer the consequences. According to Greek historian Thucydides — who wasn’t there, but was alive when all this was happening — Athens didn’t bother with providing any sort of moral justification for their invasion. So far as the Athenians were concerned, the facts were plain enough for anyone with eyes to see and acknowledge: in effect, Athens wanted the island, and Melos wasn’t powerful enough to stop that from happening. Thucydides famously recorded the Athenian point of view in his ‘Melian Dialogue’: “The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.”The Melians rejected the Athenian demand to surrender, and in 416 BCE the city of Melos was overrun, its male citizens put to death and its women and children sold into slavery.
Now, compare that bit of the ‘Melian Dialogue’ to a line in the last verse of ‘A Milli’: “I do what I can, and you do what you can do about it.” Is Lil Wayne a student of Thucydides? Or is the line pure coincidence, with the rapper stumbling on to the literary high ground by chance? Or maybe he just heard the line somewhere and worked it into his rap (which Wayne says was a one-take freestyle).
Who knows? Like almost everything with Lil Wayne, the territory between intent and execution, between real and unreal, is a little fuzzy.
One can find a great many testaments from Bangladesh and Lil Wayne’s peers lauding the greatness of ‘A Milli’…but almost no comment from Lil Wayne himself, aside from an admission that he thinks it’s one of his best.
Michael Strum: “‘A Milli’ is an interesting track, one that’s very highly regarded. There’s no mistaking Wayne’s distinct flow and voice. The inclusion of Gladys Knight & The Pips as well as A Tribe Called Quest is a cool nod to musical history.
Lyrically, there’s fun with ‘I’m ill, not sick’ and there’s deep thoughts with ‘And the Bible told us every girl was sour / Don’t play in her garden and don’t smell her flower.’
Compellingly problematic, problematically compelling. Tha Carter III is a powerhouse of a true talent at the top of his game, plagued by problems endemic to the game. But it’s not his fault, in the end, for Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. is not the same as you or I; he is a Martian.”
Rolling Stone: Producer Bangladesh looped the opening chords from Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Don’t Burn Down the Bridge,” then segued to a drill-like volley of trap drums. He gave the beat to his friend Shanell — a onetime R&B singer on Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment — to pass along. Wayne initially had grand plans for “A Milli”: He wanted to use the instrumental as skits for rappers like Tyga, Hurricane Chris, Corey Gunz, and Lil Mama. In the end, though, “A Milli” is just Weezy solo, blacking out in the booth and dazzling everyone who hears him.
|↑1||The Melians rejected the Athenian demand to surrender, and in 416 BCE the city of Melos was overrun, its male citizens put to death and its women and children sold into slavery.|