Tha Carter II

Artist: Lil WayneTitle: Tha Carter IIRating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Bill "Low-Key" Heinzelman

Lil' Wayne has come a long way since his humble beginnings as a member of Cash Money's Hot Boyz. As the youngest solider in the group, Weezy always stood out from his companions due to his intriguing voice and rebellious persona. However, the two veterans of the Hot Boyz - Juvenile and B.G. - still garnered much of the attention. It wasn't until Wayne's fourth album - Tha Carter - that the public started seeing him in a different light. In a startling transformation, Weezy went from a regional hero to a nationwide superstar. By abandoning his old rap style, Birdman Jr. adopted a new Hova inspired flow and delivery, propelling him as one of the South's most dynamic lyricists. With momentum at his side after appearing on virtually everyone's album the past year, Wayne bursts through the door once again and lives up to the hype with Tha Carter II (Cash Money/Universal).

It has been a year since our last visit to the infamous Carter complex and things have changed. Weezy's lyrical prowess remains in tact, as he slices and dices through the album with razor sharp verses. However, it’s the production aspect that has undergone the biggest transformation. With Mannie Fresh parting ways with Cash Money, many wondered if Wayne would be able to duplicate the success of the first Carter album without him. Thankfully, Weezy's superb ear for beats proves the doubters wrong, as he calls on mostly unrevealed producers for an effort that will have many saying, "Mannie who?" With a lineup consisting of the Doe Boys, Crime Family, Yonny and The Heatmakerz, Tha Carter II is surprisingly the first Cash Money release to not sound like - well - a Cash Money album. With a heavy reliance on East Coast production sounds, the album is without the usual Southern bounce associated with the label. This change is definitely welcomed, as Tha Carter II is arguably the best Cash Money release in the label's long history.

While the album isn't packed with a variety of subject matter, it succeeds due to Weezy's lyrical clinics put on display. "Best Rapper Alive" is a prime example that finds Wayne beating on his chest over a magnificent Big D beat, which features face melting guitar riffs and haunting vocal chants. Want more lyrics? Then look no further than "Oh No," as Wayne illustrates his multi-syllabic rhymes, leaving a trail of fire in his path. Weezy even goes off for five minutes straight on "Tha Mobb," as The Heatmakerz lace the track with their usual combination of window shattering drums and a soulful vocal sample.

Even though lyrics are never at a premium with Tha Carter II, Wayne does offer some change of pace tracks. The standout song "Shooter" has second single written all over it, as Wayne straight jacks Thicke's "Oh Shooter." For those who haven't heard Thicke's version, Weezy's attempt may come off as his most creative yet. However, while "Shooter" is one of the album's best songs, the beat, hook and vocals are all taken from the original, as Weezy only adds his verses on top. Nevertheless, it's still a great song. The Heatmakerz produced "Receipt" is another nice addition to the album, as Wayne proclaims his love for a certain individual (Hmmm, who could that be?). "Hustler Musik" is also impressive, as Wayne provides introspective hustler tales (Jay-z should be proud), while Tmix & Batman's layered production adds to the song's overall vibe.

In a time when Southern Hip-Hop is criticized for its lack of lyrical talent, Lil' Wayne proves that the South can indeed rap. While most of The Carter II is consumed with braggadocios rhymes - all of which are dope - Weezy still has room to grow and offer more variety and conceptual material. But that's not to put a damper on his latest effort, which exceeds all expectations. It's still amazing to see Wayne progress as an emcee the past two years. If he stays on this track, who knows what the future holds? Maybe his visions of grandeur as, "The best rapper alive, since the best rapper retired," will come to fruition.