Lil Wayne isn't necessarily the greatest rapper alive, but he's definitely the most inconsistent. Depending on the verse and the song, he can sound like a track-devouring force of nature or a stoned amateur fumbling his way through the English language. Both Waynes show up throughout his feverishly anticipated new album, Tha Carter III. On the epic "Mr. Carter," Wayne smartly co-opts one of the only rappers who can match his sales, by tapping guest wordsmith Jay-Z for a hyper-soulful anthem that builds and builds to a devastating crescendo involving a choir and ecstatic handclaps. Just when it sounds like Wayne's on the verge of justifying his outsized swagger, he follows it with "A Milli," a maddeningly repetitive headache in hip-hop form that's downright unlistenable. Wayne's lyrics are all over the place, but there's a palpable sense of joy to his delivery that's infectious.
A deep vein of theatrical craziness courses through Tha Carter III. There's a lot of Jay-Z in his flow, but there's also a lot of Ol' Dirty Bastard. Wayne raps about being a Martian, jacks a catchphrase from E.T. on "Phone Home," gives new meaning to the phrase "Fuck The Police" on the Prince-style sex fantasy "Mrs. Officer," pretends that he's a doctor on "Dr. Carter," and ends what's sure to be one of the biggest albums of the year by sampling Nina Simone on a nearly 10-minute-long song that devolves into a stoned rumination on politics, drugs, and double standards. And it's addressed partially to Al Sharpton. Even by hip-hop's loopy standards, Wayne is a bizarre mega-star. Even when shamelessly exploiting the current craze for vocoder-style voice modulation on "Lollipop," he radiates a distinctly personal kink. He's the man of the moment, but the disc's best moments strive for timelessness and attain it.