A Year of Lil Wayne: “Dedication 3”

Day 225: “Dedication 3” feat. Gudda Gudda, Willie Tha Kid, and Mack Maine – Dedication 3, 2008

What distinguishes a good use of Auto-Tune from a bad one? This is a central question for understanding why some people think the technology is the worst thing ever to happen to recorded music and why others, like me, point to it as the signature artistic advancement of the past two decades. The answer, much of the time, boils down to whether or not it sounds cool and/or pleasant.

A lot of Wayne’s mixtape material that falls on either side of Tha Carter III does not sound that good: He had a tendency to set Auto-Tune in the wrong key, so he sounded particularly off the wall (contrast this to, say, 2017 Future, whose use of Auto-Tune is barely perceptible other than as, like, a cyborg enhancement of his voice). This became an issue the more Wayne began to lean into the weirdness of the sound rather than the weirdness of his lyrics. Listen to the way, for instance, he shrieks “I’ma keep fucking this world ’til you motherfuckers come for me” on “Dedication 3.” There’s an eeriness to a line like “You should be afraid of meeeeeeee” filtered through this kind of Auto-Tune, but it’s more an alien quality rather than an emotionally resonant one. Contrasted with the way Wayne deploys Auto-Tune on his more radio-friendly singles or even his more gut-wrenching experiments, his use of it on a track like this seems to confirm doubters’ fears that it was just a bad aesthetic choice rappers made because they could.

It’s hard to say whether Auto-Tune ultimately adds anything to this song, but I would argue you can see the value of it on a line like Wayne’s verse opener, “Yeah already you better call every pallbearer, yup, in y’all area the ball carrier gon’ get popped.” There, the Auto-Tune smears together his syllables, playing up the assonance and internal rhymes, which are frankly spectacular. A few lines later, Wayne manages to milk some value out of a similar smearing effect, sneering through the lines, “Same hustle, new money / I am just hip-hoppin’ like two bunnies / who run it? Bitch nigga, moi! / that was French, nigga, not / a kiss, nigga, nah.” It’s not what we generally think of as the artistically productive use of Auto-Tune—it doesn’t sound good, exactly—but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Wayne has pretty much nailed the Auto-Tune sound in the years since, but in the period surrounding this song he very much vacillated between those poles of “interesting” and “aesthetically pleasing.” This song honestly falls more toward the former than the latter, but, hey, it’s nice that we are able to watch the progression and even get a few decent Mack Maine bars about mermaids with “no drawers” (which, isn’t that all mermaids?) and the book of Proverbs thrown in there for good measure. Wayne made these stunted Auto-Tune songs so your 2017 fave wouldn’t have to go there, and he should be commended for that as well.

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