Lil Wayne: Best Rapper Alive? His new album sold more than a million copies in its first week in stores. But is Weezy F. Baby as good as he claims? Critics Sasha Frere-Jones and Jake Paine debate the New Orleans rapper's stature on WNYC's Soundcheck.

Lil Wayne: Best Rapper Alive?

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Cover art to Tha Carter III. hide caption

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  • "Dr. Carter"
  • "Phone Home"
  • "Mr. Carter"
  • "Lollipop"
  • "Tha Block Is Hot" (from Tha Block Is Hot, 1999)

Like one of its hit songs, Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III cracked "A Millie" in first-week sales. courtesy of Universal hide caption

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courtesy of Universal

In 2005, New Orleans MC Lil Wayne proclaimed himself the "best rapper alive" on his album Tha Carter II. After making himself ubiquitous through countless mixtapes and guest appearances, he's finally issued a new album to back up his statement — to the tune of more than one million copies sold in its first week.

Its release long delayed, Tha Carter III is easily the most anticipated hip-hop release of the year to date. So does Lil Wayne live up to his own hype? Sasha Frere-Jones, pop music critic for The New Yorker, and Jake Paine, senior editor of the Web site, join host John Schaefer to debate the issue.

"We've got to do this within quotes, because it's kind of a, you know, completely ludicrous claim," Frere-Jones says. "But... yes, he's fantastic. Everything he does just pleases me so much. He gets away with it as much as anyone can get away with such a crazy claim."

Citing established hip-hop legends, Paine disagrees.

"I think that if Lil Wayne is the best rapper alive, that's a slap in the face to not only Jay-Z and Nas — rappers we've seen in our own generation — but Rakim, Kool G Rap, Ice Cube, so many of the torch carriers who have passed us throughout the era," Paine says.

"Who haven't put out good records within 10 years," Frere-Jones interrupted.

So in light of his recent prolific output, is Tha Carter III a definitive artistic statement from Lil Wayne? Or even just a good record?

"At first, when I heard it, I thought, 'I'm missing the ferocity and the rawness of what came last year.' But I think as a pop-rap record goes, which is kind of all we have left in the upper leagues, it works for me," Frere-Jones says.

Paine says that without a classic album under his belt, Lil Wayne can't be considered in the running for best rapper alive. Though he likes some of the music on Tha Carter III, Paine says it's certainly not a classic.

"I think one of Wayne's problems is he defies convention so much," Paine says. "I mean, there [are] songs on the album ... that to me are barely worth calling rap."

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