Is Lil Wayne a Modern Day Hemingway?
This man is actually a lyrical genius.
Photo by Sayre Berman
Some critics accuse Lil Wayne of lyrical atrophy. They blame fame or sizzurp or Nicki Minaj for the loss of his intricate wordplay. But I wonder if Wayne is just one of many artists who've matured, evolved, you might say, from the complexities of youth to the more essential expressions of adulthood. Maybe Weezy F Baby is more like Weezy F Father. Give this some thought with me: Maybe Wayne is like the hip-hop Ernest Hemingway.
Lil Wayne and Hemingway have more in common than their easily conjuncted names (Lil Heming-Wayne, anybody?). Both men are poets. Both men revolutionized their craft. Both men revealed exotic, larger-than-life personas to an intrigued audience. And both men emphasize artistic essentialism.
Let's examine this comparison for a minute.
The Extravagant Young Poet
The Shrimp Daddy refuses to be called a poet. He's ended interviews with such an assertion. But whether he accepts it or not, Wayne exemplifies the Merriam Webster Dictionary definition of poet.
1: one who writes poetry: a maker of verses
2: one (as a creative artist) of great imaginative and expressive capabilities and special sensitivity to the medium
Hemingway was a poet of sorts and the undisputed great American economical writer. He's essential in both meanings of essential. He hated modifiers. He despised big words that could otherwise be said as small words. Rival William Faulkner accused Hemingway of never using a word that “might send a reader to the dictionary.” In curt mastery Hemingway replied, “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?" Wayne thinks they don't.
Tunechi's style has matured over time from a Faulknerean stream of complexity to a Hemingway-like frugality. His early lines contained rhymes of all kinds. In this verse from his 2004 breakout album, The Carter, the young Hot Boy employs end rhymes, slant rhymes, internal rhymes, assonant rhymes, feminine rhymes, and so on, on “Go DJ":
Now you know I play it, like a pro in the game
No better yet a veteran in the hall of fame
I got that medicine, I'm better than all the names
Hey its Cash Money Records man a lawless gang
Put some water on the track, fresh for all his flame
Wear a helmet when you bang it man and guard yo' brain
Cause the flow is spasmodic what they call insane
That ain't even a motherfucking aim, I get dough boy
Revolutionizing His Craft
The impact of his early work cannot be understated. Wayne did as much for the mixtape and free music as Hemingway did for the literary economy. His extraordinary output — 19 mixtapes since 2002 — revolutionized rap’s relation to pop culture. Dedication 2 and Da Drought 3 were critical records, released online for free just as music really went digital.
Tunechi brought the mixtape to the MP3 player. His music was free and he was incredible. He had hundreds of features on other free tracks and was almost omnipresent. With a lyrical variety that matched his many monikers, Wayne fed his audience an exhaustive trove of sounds, a wild analogy, if you will.
The Best Rapper Alive is or was one of the best rappers alive. In 2012, he passed Elvis Presley as the Billboard Hot 100’s most prevalent male artist. His lyrical content is not always astounding but his narrative, output, delivery, and wordplay was unmatched in the mid-late 2000s. He filled the outlandish rapper gap left by Busta’s severed dreads. He became the long-hair-don’t-care, otherworldly persona. He became a Martian, a goblin, a metalhead, and a skateboard-riding hipster. His story had story, and his mixtapes changed the game.
But on his 2008 album, The Carter III, Wayne revealed freshly understated lines. The paced and brooding "Shoot Me Down” shows Weezy drinking hot tea and abandoning the extravagance of past tracks:
Yeah, if you let me, you wont regret me
Shit, if you let me you wont forget me, remember
And if you don't then ponder, hold up, bah bah
There's a reminder
I ain't kinda hot, I'm sauna
I sweat money and the bank is my shower
Ha ha and that pistol is my towel
Ha, so stop sweatin' me coward
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Lil Weezy Ana stays true to his early style of wordplay, slant rhymes, and onomatopoeia, but he cuts his syllable-count in half and opts for more essential expressions. "Bah-bahs" to show aggression, "ha-has" to disparage, all coated in subtle euphemisms and metaphors. The temporary shift from syrup to tea and the succinctness of his lyrics depict an artist maturing before our ears.
The F is for Fort Lauderdale
I reject other critics' suggestions that Dwayne Carter’s lyrical wellspring has run dry and left us with a raspy, soon-to-retire rapper. Wayne's verses have grown simpler, yes. His lines devolved from extravagant to understated, sure. But they are no less poignant. In fact, his remarkable chorus to Sorry for the Wait 2's “Fingers Hurting” may showcase Lil Heming-Wayne at his most essential and insightful yet:
She live in Fort Lauderdale and I'm closer to South Beach
I told her to come over, she said, "okay, don't fall asleep"
She say she can be my housewife and keep my house clean
I say shut the fuck up, put this dick back in your mouth please
Lil Wayne, "Sorry for the Wait Tour." 10 p.m., Saturday, March 21, at Revolution Live, 100 SW 3 Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $80 in advance plus fees, $45 for express entry, and $150 for VIP. Call 800-745-3000, or visit ticketmaster.com.
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