Interview Adam Bhala Lough
A fascinating immersion in Lil Wayne's everyday life, "The Carter" shows the rapper as a one-of-kind, harder-than-hard-work artist litteraly consumed by music. Director Adam Bhala Lough witnessed the phenomenom.
Abcdr du Son: At first, What made you want to direct a documentary about Lil Wayne?
Adam Bhala Lough: To answer this question I have to give you a little history. I first became aware of a rap scene in New Orleans during my Junior year of high school, in 1995. I grew up in Virginia and worked at a record store called Record Town in Tysons Corner Mall, 5 miles outside of Washington , DC . Southern rap was not at all popular in America and with the “East Coast / West Coast” rivalry in full effect, everything on the radio was either Bad Boy or Death Row. But in VA radio started playing this song 'Im Bout It Bout It' by a New Orleans rapper named Master P. The song blew up around my way and soon we started selling a direct-to-VHS movie called "Im Bout It Bout It" at Record Town . When I first saw the film I thought it was the worst movie ever made. That's not an exaggeration. It was a cross between 70's Blaxploitation cinema in the vein of "Sweet Sweetback's Badass Song" mixed with the worst 80's hip-hop films like Run DMC's "Tougher than Leather" mixed with " New Jack City ", shot on no budget on location somewhere in New Orleans . But the film blew up and put New Orleans and No Limit Records on the map, at least in Virginia . Now I consider it to be a cult-classic.
Meanwhile I began to hear of a rival crew in New Orleans called Cash Money Records that was apparently blowing up as well. It only takes two big labels to blow up an entire city, especially one as small as New Orleans . So with Cash Money and No Limit cooking, by ‘96 N.O. was definitely on the map. Around a year later there was some hype around a new MC named Juvenile whose first full length album was being released by Cash Money in a few months. The first time I heard him, I believe it was the song 'Soulja Rag', I was literally blown away by his style and the timbre of his voice. I know that sounds odd but I really pay attention to how someone's voice sounds more than even their lyrical content. His voice was incredibly unique and stuck out in a sea of New York/New Jersey and Southern Cali rappers that dominated the airwaves throughout the 90's. At that point I began to seek out everything Juvenile had done and follow his career very closely. His second album on Cash Money broke through the regional radio barrier and not only got play on major radio stations nationwide but was critically acclaimed as well. Thanks in a large part to Mannie Fresh's amazing production that blended the classic Booty Bounce sound popularized by Luke and the 2 Live Crew with machine gun hi-hats and Electro, almost everything released by Cash Money Records was solid fucking gold. And around 1998, they completely changed the game and set the benchmark with their first release by the “super-group” Hot Boys. Hot Boys included Juvenile, Turk, BG and Lil Wayne, the so-called “baby of the group.”
A: What did you think of him at the time?
ABL: Unlike the recent 90's trend of pubescent MC's wearing their clothes backwards and rapping about meeting girls on the playground, Lil Wayne was rapping some hardcore gangster shit, talking about dealing drugs and packing guns. But at that time his lyrics were one-note, his voice was hardly developed and he was totally overshadowed by Juvenile and BG. He almost seemed like an afterthought, the kind of rap group member who would disappear after the group disbanded, maybe drop one or two solo albums then fade away into oblivion. At the time of Hot Boys' first release "Get it How U Live", I had no idea how big Wayne would become ten years later. I don't think anyone did. But in the span of that ten years, he worked ten times harder than any other rapper in the game to hone his skills and become the best rapper alive. And it happened. I think also the fact that he stayed with Baby and Slim while Juvenile and BG split apart to go their own ways helped Wayne tremendously. They allowed him time and space to develop as an artist. More importantly he stayed out of prison.
So from ‘98 to ‘08 Wayne put in work quietly while nobody was watching to become the greatest rapper alive. And at that point, QD3 was already developing this idea of documenting him. They approached me about directing it and given my prior history as a fan of New Orleans rap music, I jumped at the chance.
A : What sets Lil Wayne apart from his peers ?
ABL: Just about everything. He truly has no equal, but maybe my viewpoint is a bit skewed as I've not had a chance to spend a year documenting the lives of other popular rappers that might be considered on his level. Regardless, from my biased vantage point, I think the most obvious difference between Wayne and his peers is his work ethic and his artistic process. He works around the clock and through a series of circumstances both in and out of his control, he has been placed into a situation where all he really has to worry about is making the next song. Creating the next piece of art. What I mean by that is everything, literally everything is being provided for him. Food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, all the necessities of life are totally handled by the support group he's built up around him so there's nothing stopping him from working around the clock. That's exactly the situation that he, and the people around him, want him to be in for as long as it takes to make a billion dollars or for him to totally crash and burn.
Now most artists have to constantly worry about things like paying bills, finding good weed, going out and getting food – even if it's driving to McDonald's. Wayne doesn't do that. He has a full time chef on staff and when the chef isn't around he has a team of assistants to go out and get what he wants and bring it back to the bus, or the studio or the condo or wherever he's at. He doesn't even need to shop for clothes because clothing and shoes and belts and hats just get sent to him. For free. All his time is dedicated to making music. And now I understand why he has the words "I Am Music" tatted on his face.
A: What about his artistic process?
ABL: It is unique from his peers in that he does not write down lyrics, he comes up with them off the top of his head and lays them down in digital files from a mic to a computer, line by line. This is not a freestyle in the old fashioned sense but something quite new and different. It's the future of rap basically. He understands the technology so well that he's created this new way of rhyming and recording lyrics. He records a thought and then stops, listens to that thought played back over and over again and then records a second thought that may or may not relate to the first in a conscious way (but certainly does in an unconscious one). The process repeats itself until he finishes the song. That's why his best songs sound like stream-of-consciousness poems. It's this unique process that totally sets him apart from his peers who are still writing and composing songs with the structure of old fashioned rap – 16 bars, a hook, 16 bars, a hook, etc. Not to say he doesn't still do the traditional method, but his best songs are ones without any structure where he really gets into a zone in the booth and makes bizarre mental connections between random things like sex, guns, drugs and Ice Road Truckers (it's a terrible US reality-TV show).
Thirdly, Wayne has been rhyming since the age of 8 and has been famous since 12 or 13. He started touring Nationwide at the age of 14 and hasn't stopped. So he's been doing this rap shit full time for about 14 or 15 years now. He's not an overnight success. A lot of people don't realize that he's not some new artist, created by a record label to fit into a niche. He's a seasoned industry vet at 28 years of age and every musician should be studying and observing him if they want to get better at making music and navigating the industry.