Three 6 Mafia's Cracker Protege Returns
Seriously, what is wrong with his forehead?
Before reading that it debuted at #46 on this week's Billboard charts, I had no idea there was a new Lil Wyte album out. I didn't even know there was a new Lil Wyte album in the planning stages. Wyte is a member of Three 6 Mafia's Hypnotize Camp Posse, and DJ Paul and Juicy J always end every HCP album by ranting excitedly about all the new projects they've got coming up. But at least half of those projects never end up coming out, so I didn't pay a whole lot of attention whenever they said that there'd be a new Lil Wyte album soon, something they've been saying for at least two years now. The second episode of Adventures in Hollyhood, Three 6's stunningly awful reality show, revolved around a planned Lil Wyte showcase, but even then they didn't say a whole lot about the prospect of a new album, and they even spent some time making fun of Wyte's hook-writing abilities. For a long time, I've been totally fascinated with Wyte, HCP's token white rapper, whose hammering nasal white-guy flow always contrasts sharply with the syrupy drawls of the other HCP guys and who isn't afraid to break out ridiculously goofy backpack-rap metaphors over Paul and Juicy's churning gothic crunk. As a result, I've probably spent way too much time thinking about this guy, and even I didn't know he had a new thing coming out. In some ways, that's weirdly encouraging news. In an age when internet rap dorks dissect the hell out of virtually every rap album before it even hits shelves, it's good to know that there's still such a thing as a regional rap underground, and it's even better to know that Three 6 Mafia is still sometimes a part of it. After the Oscar and the god-awful reality show and the ill-considered, indiscriminate blitz of TV-show guest-appearances, it looked like Three 6 had ceded their position as impenetrably hard Southern-rap veterans and willfully turned themselves into hayseed clowns, but they've just produced an entire album of tracks that's received absolutely no mainstream-media attention. It's nice to see them getting back into doing what they do better than anyone else.
Lil Wyte is now three albums deep into a truly weird and unlikely career, and he's only ever made one video, so I should probably give a quick little crash-course on the guy. First: he's white. Second: he's not very big; you have to love someone willing to be that literal and descriptive with his rap name. His last album, Phinally Phamous, came out nearly three years ago, and I really liked it. As a rapper, Wyte is pretty limited. He uses the same voice and cadence on every single track, a sort of amped-up adenoidal yammer that runs at an urgent breakneck pace even when he's talking about weed and cough syrup. He relies on punchlines way more than most Southern rappers do, and I get the feeling that he'd be down with, like, 7L and Esoteric if he was born in Boston instead of Memphis. It's probably way too easy to call him a Southern Eminem, but that's pretty much what he sounds like. Specifically, he sounds like Slim Shady LP-era Eminem, telling goofy jokes one minute and then unconvincingly threatening to beat your ass the next. (He's nowhere near as good as Slim Shady LP-era Eminem, but the comparison still stands.) In the Three 6 stable of slurry-voiced tough guys, his dorked-out overenunciation really stands out, and his race is definitely a factor there. The best parts of Phinally Phamous come when he's willing to get endearingly dorky, like on this line from "I Sho Will": "Be the Willie Nelson of the next generation / A rising legacy shining across every nation." "Acid 2004/5" is one of the most self-effacing and specific drug-songs I've heard in recent years: "I been tripping for ten hours off three hits of liquid microdot / Getting cased around the car by some midgets in the parking lot / Feeding Doritos to a tree, a million spiders after me / I'm running around having a fit, on myself I'm 'bout to shit." And "US Soldier Boy" was something even more unexpected, a posse cut that enlisted all the Three 6 Mafia dudes to wax patriotic and to pretend at being soldiers in Iraq. On that song, Wyte got patriotic in the way that only poor white people can, lashing out at Osama Bin Ladin: "He's probably already dead, fucking with the USA / But if he's not, he better not bring his ass up in the Bay." As white as Wyte is, though, he's also a quintessentially Southern rapper, and his bouncy delivery always sticks hard to Paul and Juicy's bass-heavy tracks. On Phinally Phamous, he kicked gleefully ridiculous nerd-rap over sticky Southern production like nobody since Chamillionaire on Get Ya Mind Correct.
On the first couple of listens, The One and Only, Wyte's new one, isn't anywhere near as satisfying or interesting as Phinally Phamous. For one thing, the album has almost no guest-appearances, and Wyte's voice just isn't flexible enough to carry a 20-track album by itself. A few years ago, HCP had a whole lot more rappers, and those rappers would show up all over each other's albums. These days, disgruntled ex-HCP members outnumber the crew's current roster by something like ten to one (Juicy J on The One and Only's obligatory outro: "We need some new artists!"). On The One and Only, though, not even holdouts Frayser Boy and Chrome show up, and the album doesn't include a single guest-verse, though Project Pat does turn in a couple of hooks. (Regrettably, HCP have recently done away with their finest tradition, the album-closing posse-cut.) Also, Wyte's flattened out a lot of his idiosyncratic quirks in the last couple of years, and now he screams all his verses like he's trying to sound tough, which is not a good idea for this guy. Still, end-to-end, this is one of the more listenable rap albums of the year (not saying much, I know), mostly thanks to Paul and Juicy's dark, eerie horror-movie beats. They know that Wyte doesn't sound good over Willie Hutch loops, so they largely do away with the slowed-down soul-samples they've been using lately and instead focus on the sort of evil Terminator-soundtrack synthscapes they perfected at the beginning of the decade. Mostly, though, I'm just happy to hear Wyte back again. He's been away for too long, and at this point he's funny even when he's not trying to be, like when he admits to being Three 6's "token whitey." If he shows up on the second season of The (White) Rapper Show, I'll die happy.