Matson on Music
"The Carter" director Adam Bhala Lough on Lil' Wayne, Lil' B, and the Internet takeover of the music industry
Posted by Andrew Matson
"The Carter" trailer
"The Carter" director Adam Bhala Lough
Before writing my review of the excellent/controversial Lil' Wayne "The Carter" documentary last week, I emailed the director, Adam Bhala Lough. He said he wouldn't talk about some aspects of the film because of "the lawsuit," which I'd not yet heard about.
Check the (since rejected) lawsuit here, as a 26-page PDF from the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles. Among several, the notable charge is "Fraud by Intentional Misrepresentation."
At the beginning of "The Carter," a message flashes to say Lil' Wayne eventually withdrew his support from the project (apparently after its six months of filming ceased in 2008). The rest of the movie shows Wayne heavily under the influence of promethazine/codeine cough syrup, so much so, while "The Carter" could have been about music, performing, or partying, it's largely about how nonstop syrup consumption is affecting Wayne's music, speech, and relationships with friends.
The message of the film is complicated, and bound to start arguments in whichever audience it's screened for. I told the director how, in one viewing, some of my audience-mates argued over the quality of Wayne's rhymes. He told me he watched a heated discussion at Quincy Jones' house in Bel-Air end with R&B singer Tyrese saying he feared kids who watch "The Carter" will start their own syrup habit to "be like Wayne."
Adam Bhala Lough didn't return my emails for a few days, so I assumed he'd taken issue with the questions I'd sent him, or was legally obligated not to reply, and went ahead and wrote the review. Recently, he got back to me with unexpected, powerful responses. Turns out he was traveling.
Our conversation is below, pasted from Gmail but cleaned up for clarity, spelling, grammar, and family-friendliness. In addition to discussing "The Carter," we discuss Lil' B, another young, fascinating, prolific, seemingly drugged-out rapper Adam Bhala Lough works with. In the mind of the director, Lil' Wayne was the last of the CD-selling rap stars, and Lil' B is the first of a new generation to live a predominantly Internet-based life.
Andrew - Sorry it took me a while to get back to you, I've been nonstop traveling. This interview should prove to be a great supplement to your review and give further insight into this film that is quickly slipping away from public view. It has been removed from iTunes and also Amazon.com for unknown reasons. It will surely continue to disappear until it simply becomes a museum piece like Robert Frank's "C___sucker Blues."
What's the lawsuit all about? I don't know anything about it. Is Lil' Wayne suing you?
Lil' Wayne sued QD3 Entertainment aka Quincy Jones III the producer/copyright owner of the film for 50 million dollars for defamation of character, breach of contract, attempting to slander his good name, etc. I'm not named in the lawsuit, thankfully. Here are some links about the lawsuit if you wanna catch up:
IFC article (also her review is great):
Lawsuit Thrown Out!
Why did he pull his support from the project, because he didn't like seeing himself as more or less strung out on drugs?
Hold up, I don't think at any point in The Carter that Wayne is seen as "strung out." He's smoking weed and sippin' sizzurp throughout most of the film. That's blatantly obvious. But being "strung out" is a whole different ballgame (especially to anyone who's witnessed that in person) and thankfully that's not a part of the film.
I am actually not sure why or if Wayne really pulled his support from the film because I haven't spoken to him or his manager since Sundance 2009. What I've been told by friends and Young Money affiliates is that he loves the film, watches it on his bus and screens it for friends. It seems as though his handlers are the ones who have pulled his support from the film for whatever reason I am unclear about but it never had anything to do with me or the film, it was a personal issue between Wayne's camp and QD3's camp.
In your opinion, is there Michael Jackson-style enabling surrounding Wayne? Like, people should sever their relationships with him if they don't like his nonstop syrup consumption, but don't because they're holding out for a payday?
It's hard for me to comment on this because it's been a year since I've seen Wayne so I don't know what the situation with him and his crew is like right now. But like Michael Jackson, Lil' Wayne has a large support group of handlers, lawyers, enablers, leaches and parasites. He's aware of who are the parasites and who are his true friends. He's been doing this since he was 12 years old, similar to MJ.
As you see in the film Cortez Bryant (Wayne's manager and childhood friend) actually cares about Wayne and is not afraid to go head to head with him on certain things and that makes him an invaluable asset to Wayne's life, career and business. I have a lot of respect for Tez, he's a righteous dude above all and he's not afraid to speak his mind. You need people like that around you even if you don't agree with them, even if they annoy the s__t out of you.
As for the "non-stop syrup consumption" — He's the first to admit that "I drink a lot of Syrup, b__ches say I'm sleep walkin'." So I think he's incredibly open about it — or at least he used to be. Now he won't talk about it. His attitude about people asking him about it is, "Why do you give a f__k what's in my cup — it's in MY CUP. Leave me alone." As he says in the film "Please don't judge me" or call me a drug addict you don't know me and you don't know anything about what I do. And as he says in the film "A junkie can't do what the f__k I do" meaning a junkie can't hold down the incredible work schedule he does and carry an entire record label on his back at the same time. Marinate on that one for a second.
My intention was never to make the Syrup such a huge issue in this film. But as I was following him for nearly a year there was not one moment when he didn't have that Styrofoam cup. So it had to be addressed at some point. And we address it by letting him have the last word about it: "Please don't judge me."
You've worked with Lil' Wayne and also Lil' B (GREAT video, BTW), artists some would say are prolific to a fault. Do you think there's a strength to their seeming lack of quality control?
Definitely. Lil' B is up next. Everything we wondered about for the past 10 years — Napster, Garage Band, the collapse of the recording industry, internet distribution, the convergence of musical genres, it all makes sense finally in the context of what Lil' B is doing. Lil' B fits into no specific musical category. He's making all his music from a home computer, getting beats emailed to him from around the globe, putting his songs up for free on Myspace in the same way that Wayne gave his music away for free on numerous mixtapes and CDs. The mixtape/CD circuit is officially dead. It was the final stage before the Internet simply took over. Now is Lil' B's time and he's got the formula for how artists can survive in this new decade. All he needs is a savvy businessman to walk in and harness that potential and make millions of dollars. But he doesn't need a record label he needs a Suge Knight or a Damon Dash or a Quincy Jones on a completely independent level. A record label in the traditional sense would suffocate him.
In Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" he talks about the 10,000 hour rule. Specifically he mentions The Beatles performing live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times in the beginning of the 1960's before they blew up worldwide. He emphasizes how this 10,000 hour practice period made them great musicians. Look at Lil' B in that context. In four years he's going to make 10,000 songs and at the end of that period he'll most likely be one of the most famous and best-selling artists in the world. I have no doubt about that. So whereas some people see the proliferation of rough freestyle mp3s all over the internet as "over saturation," I look at it like there's no such thing as oversaturation anymore. Our entire world is oversaturated with information. That's why the Government was not able to thwart the Nigerian bomb plot over Detroit on Christmas. Oversaturation of information and old people unfamiliar with computers and the Internet unable to handle it. That's why we need young people in there filtering through that information. They need to hire some teenage internet nerds to help them out because it's just plain embarrassing. But I digress.
I went to Atlanta and sat down with Wayne's ex-wife Toya Carter. Toya wouldn't talk to us on camera unfortunately even though her beautiful daughter Reginae did. Toya told me about the couple years that her and Wayne lived together in a house in the suburbs. She said Wayne had a little bedroom that he had converted into a recording space. And he'd spend hour upon hour in there studying rappers' styles, writing raps and recording freestyles. She could never get him out of that little room. All hours of the night he'd be in there studying and making himself a better rapper. I think this is the period in which Wayne went from being a decent rapper to something more unique and special.
Your documentary shows Lil' Wayne isolates himself from the world with weed, syrup, and headphones. He's completely in his own mental space, but as he gets more isolated, maintains the same level of material output and connects with millions nonetheless. What do you think about this duality?
That's a really interesting question. Is he actually connecting with millions? Or is it a one-way transfer? Is he getting any type of response from the fans? Does he even care? You'd have to ask him that question. I mean I suppose he cares somewhat but I see him more as a Lee Scratch Perry type of musician. He's making the music as a physical release. Like in the same way Jackson Pollack painted. If you stop him from making music he's going to have to find something else to do with himself. Lee Perry said "Music is the only comforter." It's the process that gives life meaning, not the end result.
It's almost like the more people Wayne connects with the more he has to isolate himself because their energy and their voices and opinions about what he's doing become like white noise. Really loud, violent white noise. If he paid attention to any of it it would stop him dead in his tracks and he wouldn't be able to continue creating music or getting into that zone where needs to be. It's like a basketball player standing on the free throw line with tens of thousands of people screaming at him to try and get him to miss the shot. That dude has to block out all the noise and concentrate on making that shot. He cant bring any outside thoughts into his head. Any problems he's having at home. With his wife. His kids. His friends. Money. He's gotta block all that out at that moment and make the shot. Wayne lives in that zone 24/7.
The more connections you make as a human the more you have to isolate yourself and try to concentrate on your family and the people that really matter. Those people will help shelter you I believe. That's just my opinion.
It's a troubling duality but I think life is a series of troubling dualities that need to be balanced out somehow.
When you watch "The Carter," do you get depressed?
Haha! Why would I get depressed? Did you? I see the film as inspiring and uplifting. Sure, there's struggle but ultimately it's uplifting to me because I look at it like here's an example of a guy a lot like me and my friends who comes from my generation and grew up listening to the same music as me, idolizing the same people, and he's made it. He's doing exactly what me and a lot of my friends aspire to do. He's creating art all day every day and hustling and living life on his own terms. He's a real gangster. He's not sitting in an office somewhere dreaming about getting home and playing guitar, he's doing it. And making money hand over fist. People are fighting over his content, literally. And he wakes up, smokes a blunt and says 'let me go make some music today.' Me and my friends, we all aspire to that life, to a certain extent (I personally would like to have my daughter around me all the time). That's the ultimate right there. But I know that not all of us could handle that responsibility that comes with that. Few people can. You see them get crushed under the pressure of it all the time. So yes there's a certain cautionary aspect to the film, but "The Carter" is really meant to inspire. I love watching this film. I cant say that about any other film I made. I watch the movie and it brings me back to my teenage years in Virginia listening to rap music with my friends. Nas and Snoop and Bone Thugs -- thinking these guys are really f__king cool and they make money doing what they love. It's the same with pro-skateboarders. The idea that you can get paid to ride a skateboard? It's like the ultimate inspiring thing. Even to me now as a 30-year-old. Wait, that guy gets paid to ride around on a skateboard all day? Wow, that's f__king insane.
Are you in debt from making "The Carter"? If not financially, how do you evaluate the documentary's success?
I didn't finance "The Carter." It was a for-hire job. But to answer your question about success I think success should be judged from your own gut and not by what other people think or say. People talk s__t but ultimately you should only listen to the people in your life that really care about you. If your family and close friends see what you're doing is successful then listen to them. Don't listen to other people who try to undercut your success by saying backhanded s__t like, "Yeah it was cool, but your movie didn't open on 200 screens, your album didn't even get reviewed on Pitchfork dot com." Hahahaha that shit is meaningless. My dad said he got emotional when he watched "The Carter," he was very moved by it. I knew he would be because he came from a similar upbringing to Wayne. That means a lot to me right there. Lil' B sent me an email after he watched it that said:
THIS IS AMAZING
U HAVE TRULY MADE A MASTERPIECE
THAT NO1 CAN EVER TAKE AWAY
That really means something right there.
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