In 2008, following an almost unbelievable run of brilliant weirdness on mixtapes and internet leaks, Lil Wayne released Tha Carter III, his sixth proper solo album and also the one that really began pushing studio rap albums away from where they were at the time (aiming at stadium-seating bigness) and toward where we find the best versions of them today (more granular, more zonky, more idiosyncratic).
Many people wrote many nice things about Tha Carter III. Pitchfork, for example, described it as “the epic culmination of a lifetime of eccentricities.” Rolling Stone said it was proof that Wayne, in that moment, was “the best rapper alive.” (His mid-to-late-2000s stretch was the first thing I thought about Sunday night when he popped up on the BET Awards as, essentially, an afterthought.) There were, to be sure, some people who did not like it, as there always are, but mostly Tha Carter III was very positively received, which is good to see now, given the way it’s grown into a role of obvious importance. I’m not so interested in talking about the entire album, though. I only want to talk about one song: “Dr. Carter.”
On “Dr. Carter,” the sixth song on the album, Wayne works as a doctor in the emergency unit of a hospital. He visits three separate patients over the course of a day, and each one has a different list of ailments that he must tend to.
Now, the entire song works as one long metaphor for him saving hip-hop (all of the patients are nameless rappers, and they all have rap-related maladies), and so let me say this: It really is an excellent song and a fun song and a clever song. So there’s that. But let me also say this: In the song, Wayne is presented as some sort of super doctor; he refers to himself in the third person, he says things like “Dr. Carter to the rescue,” and so on and so forth. But that’s not the case at all. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: Lil Wayne, it turns out, makes for a horrible doctor.
The first person Wayne sees is a guy who (1) is “suffering from a lack of concepts,” (2) is not very original, (3) has a weak flow, and also (4) “has no style.” And it’s here where we first start to see that Wayne is a very bad doctor.
First, as the nurse reads off the patient’s issues to Wayne (in front of the patient, mind you), he audibly sighs and groans in frustration, which, if it’s not a breach of some doctor code, is at the very least wildly offensive. “Ughh, another one,” he croaks when the nurse tells him the patient has a weak flow, his voice oozing with contempt because he knows his own flow is otherworldly and immaculate. Think on that. Imagine you’re at a hospital lying in a bed and a nurse is like, “This patient has throat cancer,” and you’re there, your whole world wrecked from the news, and the doctor is like, “Ughh, another one. Why can’t you just have a healthy throat like me? Look at mine. Look at how good and strong it is. It’s not like yours at all: all cancer-y and stupid.”
After that initial exchange, Wayne plans to get started, but before he does, he addresses the fact that he showed up to work late. (Nobody asks him about arriving late. He just starts talking about it.) His excuse: “It takes time to be this great, uhh, so just wait.” SO JUST WAIT, hahahaha. That’s what he says to his patient, who is dying. That’s honestly incredible.
When Wayne does finally begin doctoring, he opts to start by berating the patient even more (“Your style is a disgrace / Your rhymes are fifth place”; “Where is your originality? / You are so fake”). Then Wayne again starts talking about how excellent his own health is. And, literally as Wayne is in the middle of talking about how superb he is, the patient dies. As in he’s dead. As in he is no longer alive. As in he is gone forever.
(A quick sidebar: As I mentioned, “Dr. Carter” is the sixth song on Tha Carter III. The second song on Tha Carter III is “Mr. Carter.” If we are able to assume that Wayne was able to get his medical degree from the time it took to go from the second song to the sixth song, then that really should tell you all you need to know about his doctor credentials.)
Wayne’s second patient gets a treatment similar to the first, with similar results as well. The nurse tells Wayne that (1) the guy’s confidence is down, (2) his vocabulary needs work, (3) his metaphors need work, and (4) that he lacks respect for the game. Wayne responds by telling the patient that “respect is in the heart / so that’s where I’ma start,” and that’s a good plan, but then Wayne tells him, “A lot of heart patients don’t make it.”
Now, I’m aware that setting realistic expectations is a thing doctors do, but the thing here is that that was just a very inaccurate statement by Wayne. This is from an article about a medical study done on heart surgery among the elderly, the most at-risk-for-death-during-heart-surgery population of people, that ran in The New York Times just a few months after Tha Carter III came out: “Ninety percent survived their surgery to leave the hospital. The rate of such survival improved sharply as the study went on, from 85 percent in the early years to 98 percent by its end.” Those numbers seem like something that a doctor who works on hearts (which, among other things, is what Wayne is in “Dr. Carter”) should know. Wayne telling his patient that people who have the same issues normally don’t make it is like a doctor telling a patient with a swollen ankle that patients with swollen ankles normally don’t make it.
After that, Wayne tells the patient that people had a hard time reading his writing on prescriptions so he just stopped writing them (this feels like the wrong way to handle that particular problem) and then he force-feeds him some Vicodin (“Here, take these Vicodin / Now like it and love it”), and then guess what: 13 seconds later the patient is dead. “God dunnit, I’ve lost another one,” Wayne says with the same level of contrition as someone who’s accidentally knocked over a bottle of water. Two patients in, two patients dead. That’s a good ratio if you’re, say, a serial killer. It’s a bad ratio if you’re a doctor.
Wayne’s third patient is actually barely even a patient. The nurse tells him, “This one looks much better than the others,” and the undertone is clear: Please don’t fuck this up and let this one die, too. She continues: “His respect is back up, concepts sound good. His style is showing strong signs of improvement. All he needs now is his swagger.”
Wayne’s first move: “OK, let me take my gloves off then.”
WHY WOULD YOU TAKE YOUR GLOVES OFF????
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Well, maybe Wayne just didn’t have to do any doctor-y things to the guy so that’s why he took his gloves off,” and if you’re thinking that then I’d like to point out to you that by the end of the verse Wayne is handling the guy’s stitches and also using a knife for something.
An even better part: Wayne doesn’t even know where the guy’s stitches are to start. He literally asks the nurse, “Where’s the stitches?” which is a question I hope that none of my doctors ever have to ask someone.
A second even better part: He for real calls it a “knife.” (The full line is: “Where’s the stitches? / Here’s the knife.”) Picture that in your head. Picture a doctor saying “knife” instead of “scalpel” or whatever. It’s like a urologist meaning to say, “Please lower your pants so I can see your penis,” but actually saying, “Aye, whip that dick out, bro.”
Wayne then smacks the guy in the face (this does not seem like something they teach you in medical school, though I will admit that I barely made it out of regular college so I could be wrong). The guy’s eyes open, and Wayne looks at him and says, “Welcome back, hip-hop / I saved your life,” which all of a sudden is a very funny line when you look at his doctor history.
So, to recap things in order of ascending malpractice, Wayne: uses the word “knife”; shows up late to work; gets mad at a patient for being sick; makes fun of a patient for being sick; brags about his own excellent health in comparison to a sickly patient; takes off his gloves before working on a patient’s stitches; gives a patient wrong information about people who have heart conditions; admits that rather than writing a little neater he decided to just go on ahead and stop writing prescriptions altogether; smacks a patient; force-feeds a patient Vicodin; allows a patient to die; and allows a second patient to die.
Thus, I say again: Lil Wayne, it turns out, makes for a horrible doctor.