Label: Cash Money, Universal Motown

Hip-hop fans are torn over Tha Carter III. To some, it's the culmination of Lil Wayne's near-flawless run for a few years in the Aughts, and the million first-week copies sold are proof that it's Weezy's most essential release. To others, Tha Carter III represents the moment that Wayne became an oversaturated shell of his former self, and would rather reserve the highest praise for his mixtapes and the first two albums in the Carter series.

Listeners who stand on the latter side of the argument have their points. "Money On My Mind" and "Hustler Muzik" are on par with, if not better than, anything on Tha Carter III. But there's still something to be said for making a perfect pop album when the pressure is on, and Lil Wayne did that on this album.

Tha Carter III is a "classic" or "perfect" in the way that Get Rich or Die Tryin' is. Both are certainly great albums, but those designations aren't even entirely qualitative. Timing, anticipation, and atmosphere play such a huge role in how albums are received upon release and over the course of history, and that's something that shouldn't be forgotten when critiquing Tha Carter III.

Plus, the records are there. Perhaps there's some type of revisionist conspiracy at work here, but "3Peat," "A Milli," "Dr. Carter," and "Playin' With Fire" are Wayne at his technical peak. Is the rap community so collectively angry at Lil Wayne for skateboarding that we can't acknowledge that? And no one else on the planet can make a No. 1 song like "Lollipop."

Lil Wayne has a lot of excellent music, and most of it isn't on Tha Carter III, but for all intents and purposes, this is the album that matters. It matters to people who don't even listen to rap. It's a classic for so many reasons beyond how it sounds, even if it sounds pretty great, too. — EB

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