Lil Wayne's 10 Most Underrated Songs (Yes, Even One From 'Rebirth')

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Lil Wayne performs at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on March 28, 2011 in Uniondale, N.Y.

Few would dispute Lil Wayne’s claim of being the “best rapper alive” in the mid- to late 2000s. But there was sizable pushback at the time from 2Pac and Biggie connoisseurs who refused to recognize the prominence of rap’s Dirty South, and occasionally, if you weren’t already converted, his own goofy experimentalism was hard to make a case for. Then, after that decade’s unprecedentedly prolific streak, Wayne’s 2010s haven’t gone quite as well.

The widely derided rock experiment Rebirth and the disappointing Tha Carter IV eroded the anticipation for both the good (I Am Not a Human Being, I Am Not a Human Being 2, Sorry 4 the Wait) and unremarkable (Sorry 4 the Wait 2, Free Weezy Album) releases that came after. The personal issues he’s battled during this time -- an eight-month prison stint, health scares and a protracted legal bloodbath over custody of his long-delayed Carter V album due to a falling out with mentor/“daddy”/Cash Money CEO Birdman -- likely haven’t helped. But the man’s put out so much incredible music and been such a numbing presence in the spotlight that it’s all too easy to take much of it for granted.

Here are 10 less-than-heralded songs (including many from his second act) that show Tunechi is capable of being the best and most interesting that rap has rap to offer, even outside the obvious standouts.

“Shine,” Lights Out (2000)

It’s bizarre to think that years before his Dedication 2/Tha Carter II “breakthroughs” with the die-hard rap audience, Wayne was already a teenager commanding top 20 debuts on the Billboard 200 albums chart. His nearly unrecognizable bling-bling era obviously doesn’t hint at the freestyle wizardry to come just a few years later (still an eternity in the genre), but it’s often overlooked these days as a bounty of enjoyable singles, of which this impossibly happy tune is the best. The sparkling chorus sound effects and goofy electro beat on this Hot Boys posse cut are every bit as fun as “Fireman” or “A Milli,” and it’s scary to think how quickly he would begin to build on this level of enjoyability to something far more sophisticated.

“Love Me or Hate Me,” The Leak (2007)

The Leak in general may be Weezy’s most taken-for-granted release: “I’m Me” and “Kush” are beloved of die-hards, but all five songs are perfect; it might actually be his best record, which is why it was included as a bonus disc the following year with certain lucky editions of Tha Carter III. Impeccably orchestrated, half-melodized power ballad “Love Me or Hate Me” somehow never gets talked about, even though it features Wayne singing, pre-Auto-Tune, and rattles off airtight boast after hilarious boast in tune: “I’m higher than an eagle’s feet,” “I’m tight like ballet tights.” With the conceit of “I swear the other day I pissed Cristal,” he also beat Future by about eight years.

“La La,” Tha Carter III (2008)

The idea that there’s an underrated song on Tha Carter III seems ridiculous eight years later, but at the time there was plenty of skepticism over “Comfortable” (too sappy), “Got Money” (too normal) and “Dontgetit” (that bizarre Al Sharpton rant), along with scattered moments here and there that failed to convince his sizable contingent of skeptics. Many people hated “Lollipop” too, which admittedly has improved majestically with time (it’s kinda bluesy, actually!). But only two songs are still somewhat lacking in vindication: “Playing With Fire” -- which is just OK and switched out in favor of the legendary “Pussy Monster” on the Japanese edition, the one you should own -- and this kooky, atonal-marimba-and-kiddie-voice banger loaded with quotables like “I’m on top like the attic” and a surprisingly warm, four-bar paean to his daughter that climaxes adorably with “I’m richer than all y’all/ I got a bank full of pride.”

“Drop the World,” Rebirth (2010)

Rebirth wasn’t ill-advised in itself; if Godsmack can do a rock album, why can’t Lil Wayne? One of the fun things about Auto-Tune initially was the idea that rappers we were already big fans of could use it to realize their own singing fantasies. Why not a darkwave Kanye West album or a nü-metal Wayne record? If anything, we should regret there aren’t more of these. Big K.R.I.T. still owes us a faux Sturgill Simpson album. But “Prom Queen,” its first and most rawk single sucked, leaving too little goodwill for the proper album’s bright spots, such as the beautiful melody of this hallucinatory, not-very-rawk Eminem duet that came with a nice bridge and a wowza chorus (“I’mma pick the world up and I’mma drop it on your f---ing head”) that could’ve been a sure shot had it been attached to a project that wasn’t already hemorrhaging by the time it got its own video.

“Popular,” I Am Not a Human Being (2010)

The intended stopgap I Am Not a Human Being was hyped less than Rebirth or Tha Carter IV and surprise, it’s surer of itself than either. Despite plenty of strong Drake appearances (one could argue that this album was where Wayne officially passed the baton to the most-discussed rap figure of the 2010s), Dreezy doesn’t appear on the album’s best pop song, which chopped up a victorious, Alphaville-ready synth riff underneath the usual gynephilic bragging that killed any chances of the hook’s radio success. But it has some of his sweetest and most genuinely erotic phrasing ever: “I make her lose her voice,” “Take her clothes off with my teeth,” “I do it how she ask / And I come last.”

“Abortion,” Tha Carter IV (2011)

This side-two oddity epitomizes everything the rest of Tha Carter IV should’ve been: adventurous and nearly indescribable. “Abortion” is a bizarre, psychedelic journey through gospel samples, some leftover rock dynamics, and ferocious rapping (“I’m shooting for the stars / Astronauts dodge bullets,” “When life sucks, I just enjoy the head”), with a cocky, bluesy chorus that’s every bit as entertainingly insane as it needs to be: “We in the belly of the beast / And she thinkin’ bout abortion.”

“Turn on the Lights (Remix)” (2012)

In keeping with his flips of Rich Homie Quan (“I hit it all type of ways”) and iLoveMakonnen (“I get in her stomach like Mylanta”), Weezy’s take on Future’s breakthrough hit served as the springboard for some of his most gleefully filthy boasts, comparing his girl’s body to a mermaid and warning “don’t sit on top of this dick if you’re scared of heights.” And never let the narrative show that Wayne is anything less than the most inventive horndog this side of Kevin Gates. What does he do after his girl lets him ejaculate anywhere he wants? “I give her Santa Claus face,” good lord.

“IANAHB,” I Am Not a Human Being 2 (2013)

It’s bizarre that the two I Am Not a Human Being releases are viewed with such indifference. Though it’s understandable that people were growing sick of Tunechi, there are many obvious signs of life in retrospect. He couldn’t exactly sleep his way through this nearly six-minute opener for instance, rapped forcefully over gorgeously melodramatic, maybe-improvised classical piano and nothing else. Much of the rest of I Am Not a Human Being 2 was steeped in fairly conventional rap sounds for 2013, but it was both commercially and artistically successful, with plenty of surprises. The closest precedent for a tune like this in Wayne’s catalog was “3 Peat,” the sprawling, widescreen preamble to his classic Tha Carter III.

“I Feel Good,” Free Weezy Album (2015)

As with his glorious 2009 bootleg take on The Beatles’ “Help!,” Wayne’s 2015 James Brown pastiche takes riotously fun liberties with history and bends them to his joyous will. As music and performance, “I Feel Good” is inspired, on-fire, ambitious. He Auto-Tunes his way through the chorus of Brown’s “I Got You” with jovial, even soulful delivery (particularly when he ad-libs, “Girl your pussy’s so good”), and it would’ve made a phenomenal introductory taste of a comeback album. Lyrically, it’s lacking in quotable quotes and Free Weezy Album was no comeback. But more than any other Carter V warm-up track, here you can hear him finding his footing, the legend reawakening. Here’s hoping that’s how it really goes.

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