Hearing former Hot Boys side by side is instructive. On Life in the Concrete Jungle, B.G. and the Chopper City Boyz are as literal as possible. They “Keep it Real” (one song title) about “My Life” (another title). They take care of “Bizness,” they “Never Look Back,” and when they’re on the dance floor, they warn people, “Don’t Step on My White Feet”—their clean, new shoes. The album’s all about street life, which largely means being hard, selling drugs and getting paid, expressed in the most direct language possible. Though it gets a little repetitive, that focus is admirable, and there’s little to suggest these are tall tales. The songs might or might not represent their lives, but they certainly speak for the lives of people they know, which is a depressing truth.
The stand-out track is “Dealer,” not because the story’s very different, but because there’s a musically imaginative moment. The chorus ends with someone—likely Snipe—speak/singing lines along the same melodic contour as lines from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” followed by the repetition of “Dealer,” sung/spoken as if it was echoing, imitating Jackson’s repeated “Beat it” in his chorus. That sort of allusion is otherwise missing from the album, along with figurative language and any sense of musical play.
On the other hand, Lil Wayne is all about the joys of the imagination. He’s intoxicated with his own freestyling skills and rhymes with a Tourette’s-like compulsion. His muse may take him in some predictable directions—sex, particularly—but that allows for more entertaining fantasies than B.G.’s reports from the urban jungle. On Tha Carter III, he fantasized about a lady cop; on the new Dedication 3 mixtape, he speculates on Angelina Jolie, Oprah, Martha Stewart and Sarah Palin, who shows up twice.
Dedication 3 is flabbier than Tha Carter III, with entertainingly nutty spoken word spots that carry him through some routine stretches. Still, almost everything here is at least curious, with an odd amount of Auto-Tune to no clear purpose beyond adding to another voice he can use. Still, at least Lil Wayne does mess with his voice; when B.G. and the Chopper Boyz want to change the sonic texture, they change emcees, leaning a lot on Gar Snipe on the album.
More than anything else, there’s a sense of play on anything Lil Wayne touches. There’s no obsession with realness, consistency or even linear thought as each new idea, word choice or image determines the one that comes next. Dedication 3 lives entirely in his head, which is simply a more fascinating place than B.G.’s concrete jungle.