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Lil Wayne: guitar hero

November 21, 2008 |  2:33 pm


Lil Wayne: guitar hero. Who’d have thunk it?

Seems like every time you see the froggy-voiced rap superstar these days, he’s got a guitar strapped over his shoulder. Or he’s noodling tunelessly on one. Or as is most often likely, he’s just pretending to play a guitar -- even if the song he is performing has no actual guitar playing in it.

For evidence, look no further than three of the Cash Money Millionaire’s appearances: with Kid Rock at the Country Music Awards, Lil Wayne’s video for “Mrs. Officer” and his recent collabo with Kevin Rudolf, “Let It Rock.”

Earlier this month, Lil Wayne shattered the glass ceiling as the first rapper ever to perform at country music’s version of the Grammys, appearing onstage with Kid Rock for a run-through of his countrified mash-up hit “All Summer Long.” Wearing a Tennessee Titans jersey, Weezy gripped the neck of his electric guitar loosely but commandingly; deep in concentration, he appeared to be channeling his inner Joe Satriani, executing a blistering guitar solo. But curiously, not a single note of it could be heard over the P.A. Meanwhile, the band’s “real” guitarist -- a member of Rock’s backing band, wearing a shirt with “Joe the Strummer” emblazoned on the front -- was coming across loud and clear. Maybe someone forgot to plug Weezy in?

Hopping genres again to appear in the video for Rudolf’s Justice-esque crossover hit “Let It Rock,” the rapper is filmed energetically playing what appears to be a Fender Jazzmaster, bathed in the cathode glow of an electronic scrim. Again, Lil Wayne demonstrates shades of Eddie Van Halen; he looks to be shredding his way through yet another flamboyant solo. Never mind that the guitar is not utilized until much later in the song (and those few notes are played by Rudolf, not Lil Wayne), the message is implicit: Weezy is a rock star, an aspiring David Bowie even, if you consider the much-repeated refrain of his song “Phone Home”: “We are not the same. I am a Martian.”

But while Lil Wayne's got the slumping stance and concentrated intensity of a golden guitar god down pat, his technique can be kind of distracting for anybody who really knows how to shred. In the video for his latest single, “Mrs. Officer/Comfortable,” the rapper sits on the hood of a police car picking at a red acoustic. It provides a somewhat jarring juxtaposition with the flamenco-esque guitar strains sampled in the song to see Weezy working away at the bottom of the instrument’s neck with his thumb (as opposed to strumming down the fret board with a pick).

He’s both literally and figuratively faking the funk –- a fact that was apparently lost on the curmudgeons at Pitchfork Media who, in reviewing Weezy’s top-selling album “Tha Carter III” pronounce: “Lil Wayne is a terrible guitarist. Just incredibly bad.”

One of the first times you saw the rapper picking up an axe was in his 2006 video for “Leather So Soft” –- a clip that was notable for featuring him posing with various guitars over his shoulder but also showcasing his achievements with the instrument. Near the video’s conclusion, the dense backing track gives way to Lil Wayne’s amateurish guitar fumblings.

Of course, Weezy’s so awful-they’re-brilliant guitar noodlings reached their apogee in April, when he appeared on “Saturday Night Live” to perform his No. 1 smash hit “Lollipop.” Again, the rapper whipped out his guitar and gave it all his energy (for evidence, forward to the 3:37 mark in the clip), proving beyond any reasonable doubt that Lil Wayne wouldn’t know what a chord was if it were wrapped around his tremolo bar.

-- Chris Lee

Photo of Lil Wayne and Kid Rock at the CMA Awards by Mark Humphrey/Associated Press