A Year of Lil Wayne: The Best Mixtape of All Time Turns 10

Day 233: “Put Some Keys on That” – Da Drought 3, 2007

Nobody has ever rapped better than this. I mean, there’s this, of course. It’s true nobody has ever rapped better than that, but it’s also true that nobody has ever rapped better than this. Or this. Look, there’s this, which is the best rapping ever heard anywhere. And there’s this, which is inarguably as good as rapping can get. But in the end, the best anyone has ever rapped is on this song, “Put Some Keys on That.”

Obviously, we could keep going when it comes to Da Drought 3, which is Lil Wayne’s classic album. Sure it’s not technically an album, but it is the best rap mixtape ever made. As DatPiff notes, today marks the ten year anniversary of Da Drought 3 going online. Ten years is a lifetime: Today, rap is all about ~aesthetic~ and carefully packaged content whereas a decade ago—largely because Wayne was so good that he wrote the rules—rap was a sprawling postmodern free-for-all. Songs leaked as soon as they were recorded; blogs raced each other to upload the zShare links while mixtape DJs dropped little Easter egg exclusives into gargantuan mixes. Record labels couldn’t keep up, and copyright was secondary to lyrical calisthenics. Being the rapper who picked apart the beats of hit songs mattered—largely because Lil Wayne decided it mattered and Lil Wayne happened to be the best rapper alive.

And so the definitive Wayne project is not one of his meticulously over-assembled studio albums (although Carter II comes close) but rather a mixtape of him performing free-associative acrobatics over some of the beats of some of the biggest songs of the era. It’s him cackling about signing Nicki Minaj to Young Money. It’s him making jokes about the Geico cavemen and the singer Seal. It’s him shooting people off their porch and making them fall into the kitchen, diving into the ocean to save hip-hop, switching up his flows like they do on construction sites. It’s him reminding you that when he was five his favorite movie was the Gremlins and making claims like he’s the only fire that can live in the rain. The only thing on the mind of a shark is eat, and the only thing on the mind of Lil Wayne was… absolutely everything in the entire world.

Da Drought 3 is not a great album in the way that such things are often imagined, as carefully sculpted products with some kind of focused concept, but rather it is a feat of pure athleticism, a display of virtuosity. It is a triumph of the human mind, a funhouse for the English language. Listening to it is like surfing channels late at night—except those channels also include hyperlinked journeys because this is the internet age.

Likewise, “Put Some Keys on That,” the freestyle over Rich Boy’s “Throw Some Ds,” is not necessarily the best song. Really, there is no best, since every song on the tape is more or less the same idea, executed flawlessly over and over. But since that is the case, “Put Some Keys on That” may very well be the best song. It is certainly a model example of what makes Da Drought 3 so good, flitting from topical jokes about stuff like the notoriously stupid Eddie Murphy movie Norbit to a comparison between Wayne and Langston Hughes, working in references to topics as far-ranging as Dunkin Donuts and Peyton Manning. At one point, Wayne declares that he’s a vegetarian because he only eats beats (get it, like beets), and he follows that statement with more double entendres about carats (carrots), greens, and beef. And then there’s the dramatic finale, which is some of the most dextrous rapping in Wayne’s entire catalogue, a symphony of staccato bars that slice the beat down to its raw essentials, tipping on 4/4 time:

If they ain’t tell you I’m the shit, then they told you wrong
Bitch, I’m bubbling like soda foam
In a styrofoam
Cup
You know what’s in my styrofoam
What?
S-Y-R-up
That’s my car, yup
Vrooommmmm!
I’m gone

In the pantheon of rap, many greats stand out for the way that they build narratives or string together long sequences of words. Perhaps the way they deliver their bars factors in sometimes. But as far as pinpoint control of syllables and the possibilities that lie therein, Lil Wayne is peerless. And Da Drought 3 is, in addition to everything else, the pinnacle of his technical accomplishment on that front.

By the time of Wayne’s proper mid-2000s victory lap release, Tha Carter III, he had mostly moved on from what he was doing here. He was exploring the druggy realms of Auto-Tune experimentation and flirting with the idea of fully embracing his love of rock star style. He has achieved a ton of great things stylistically since and delivered many truly jaw-dropping verses. But there has never been anything so ruthlessly, effortlessly, gracefully accomplished as his rapping here. This is rap’s four minute mile. This is Jordan in the ’96 Finals. This is Miles Davis in 1959. There’s nothing like it, and there never will be again. To quote Lil Wayne right here, “If they ain’t tell you I’m the shit, then they told you wrong.”

But don’t take this essay’s word for it. This is my 16th time writing about the tape for A Year of Lil Wayne so far, and you can read a hell of a lot more about each of these songs, too:

“Intro”
“Black Republicans”
“Upgrade”
“Ride 4 My Niggas (Sky’s The Limit)”
“We Takin’ Over” (Remix)”
“Get High, Rule the World”
“I Can’t Feel My Face”
“Seat Down Low”
“New Cash Money” (feat. Brisco)
“Blooded”
“Live from 504”
“Dipset”
“Forever”
“Swizzy” (Remix)
“Crazy”

Happy Birthday to Da Drought 3.

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