Lil Wayne is currently one of hip-hop’s most successful and critically acclaimed rappers today. Beginning his career at the age of eight, Wayne was on tour by eleven and a member of the multi-platinum selling group Hot Boys by seventeen. Since then, he’s released six solo albums, the latest The Carter III: The Rebirth, selling more than a million copies in its first week. It’s an undisputed fact that Lil Wayne is one of the most popular musical artists putting out music – and I have no idea why. My goal in viewing Lough’s documentary ”The Carter” was to get a better idea of who “Mr. Carter” is as a person and an artist. I hoped to better appreciate the man and his talent after taking a look into his life. None of that happened.
Adam Bhala Lough, the filmmaker behind the Independent Spirit Award winning feature “Bomb the System” (2002), follows Lil Wayne and his crew around the time The Carter III is released. Bomb the System’s impressive take on hip-hop culture (graffiti is one of hip-hop’s five elements along with breakdancing, beatboxing, turntablism, and emceeing) was certainly not matched by Lough’s latest efforts. “The Carter” is extremely flawed and does very little to help those unfamiliar with hip-hop understand the culture.
The film looks like is a commercial for Wayne’s new album and his favorite drug of choice: Promethazine and Codeine (prescription strength cough syrup) mixed with soda and druunk out of a double Styrofoam cup. This cough syrup concoction known as “syrup,” “sizzurp,” “purple drank” among other names played a part in the death of Texas hip-hop artist Pimp C in 2007. The film does very little to discuss the dangers of the drug, Wayne’s apparent addiction, or his attempts to fight that addiction.
Instead, Wayne is shown mixing, pouring, and drinking the syrup over and over and over.
“The Carter” deals with Wayne’s drug addiction just like it deals with every other serious aspect of his life—briefly. This is a film either afraid of or allergic to depth. Every time the film would get close to almost possibly discussing something important it would cut to a bouncing ball Sing-a-Long with Weezy session. A great deal of the footage used is of Lil Wayne standing in his tour bus listening to his own songs as the words are printed across the screen in bold, white letters. And just when the tone would turn towards something a little more sensitive, such as his drug use and depression, his family life, or even his musical influences, it wouldn’t. Back to more syrup drinking footage—we get it, he likes syrup. We get it because Wayne tells us over and over again. So do his friends. So does the filmmaker. This wasn’t what I hoped to learn about the third rapper to ever sell a million records in a week.
Judging by the way Wayne dealt with interviewers asking him semi-personal questions, the odds are high that Lough’s job was tougher than it seems. One poignant sequence, however, shows Wanye barraging a fifteen year old boy for being a virgin. “You ain’t f**k yet? I was raped at eleven,” Wayne boasts, “and I liked it. I wasn’t pressin’ no charges.” The boy looks embarrassed as the rapper describes his introduction to f******o. “You’re fifteen? I had my baby by fifteen!” It’s then that Lough cuts to the first image of Mr. Carter’s family life- a shot of his preteen daughter.
Presenting a foul-mouthed misogynist and then cutting to his preteen daughter? That’s exactly what this film needed more of. But instead, all we get is a surface level documentary about a guy who apparently isn’t affected by constant drug use, whose lyrics sound more like “Roger Dodger” diatribes than poetry, and whose life is great because he made those choices. In the end, a film about the worst person can be great. Unfortunately, “The Carter” is a not-so-great film about a not-so-great person.