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The History and Structure of Blunt Blowin’ by Lil’ Wayne

culture studies Dec 10, 2021
Lil Wayne, Tha Carter IV

 

This essay dissects Blunt Blowin’ by Lil’ Wayne to highlight the composition’s subtle complexity. We argue that the piece is more than a stoner anthem. Instead, it encapsulates a pivotal moment in the artist’s life and provides sociopolitical commentary on the United States. To illustrate our point, we’ll analyze the sound and feel of key moments within the piece in conjunction with its lyrics. First, we’ll create a baseline for reference throughout the essay because it’s essential for describing how the music changes from moment to moment. Next, we’ll explore the emotion of the piece and its potential influences. Finally, we’ll summarize our findings.

So, if you're a music-loving entrepreneur, consider learning more about the woman that penned this essay. Her name is Sabrina Whittaker, and her research centers around business development and Black placemaking in the United States.

Nearly every rap song consists of intros, hooks, and verses. Hooks are choruses; in rap, they include the main idea and advance the theme. Within this paper, we have a bridge. In music, bridges are designed to provide contrast to the rest of the composition. Some critical information about the song is included below.

 

  • The song is in D major.
  • The tempo is 136 bpm.
  • We analyze the piece using the half-tempo of 68 bpm. To be sure, BPM stands for beats per minute.
  • There are 76 half-tempo measures.
  • The time signature is 4/4.
  • Halving the bpm doubles the bar’s measure, so for us, the beat lands on 8th notes instead of quarter notes. This sounds like “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and” as opposed to “1-2-3-4”.

 

The beats creator, Producer DVLP, says “Blunt Blowin’” was the one I wanted him to get on. I felt like it was going to happen. With that beat, I was really getting into character. I was thinking ball and chain and dark hallways.” Lil Wayne wrote Blunt Blowin' while serving eight months in Riker’s Island Prison. It was released as part of his album, Tha Carter IV. This is noteworthy because, before his stint in prison, Lil Wayne’s claim to fame was his status as an unmatched freestyler. Thus, Blunt Blowin'’s first significant departure from his earlier work is that its structure and ambiance are more intentional. Tha Carter IV was released on August 29th, 2011. Some songs within the album have a video game or emo influence, while others reference politics and current events; the album even talks about mental health. For example, verses like “suicide note, suicide doors” remind us of the age-old adage “money doesn’t buy happiness.” 

According to Flocabulary.com, “most songs begin with some instrumental bars, which are typically followed by a verse, although some do start with a hook. Very few songs begin with rapping. Usually, the beat plays for 4 or 8 bars before the rapper comes in.”

 

Below, the song is broken into bars to illustrate its flow.

 

  • Intro
    • 2 Bars: signature lighter flickering
    • 4 Bars: instrumental music sets the tone
    • 2 Bars: ad-libs, another lighter flick

 

  • Section 1
    • 18 Bars: first verse “I live it up like these are my last days.”
    • 8 Bars: first chorus “I’m a Blunt Blowin’, Polo drawers showing…”

 

  • Section 2
    • 16 Bars: second verse – average length, but notably shorter
    • 8 Bars: second chorus

 

  • Section 3
    • 12 Bars: third verse – shortest, almost rushed
    • 8 Bars: third chorus

 

  • Outro
    • 8 Bars: bridge - disruption
    • 4 Bars: instrumental music sets the tone

 

“I live it up like it’s my last days. If time is money, I’m an hour past paid.”

The song almost sounds shy in the beginning compared to its electric evolution. Blunt Blowin’ includes what appears to be a violin, cello, snare drum, and cymbals. It begins with an upbeat violin playing major chords, layered with an eerie, mournful cello playing minor chords. There’s a small cymbal crash introducing the drum, then a relatively consistent drum kick keeping pace throughout the song. The drum isn’t resonate, so perhaps it’s dampened or muted. The combination manages to feel both triumphant and melancholic.

 

“They say we learn from mistakes, well that’s why they mistake me” - Lil' Wayne, Blunt Blowin'

 

Despite the title, the song carries with it a message that promotes personal responsibility and code-switching to match the social requirements of a space for the sake of economic gain. His hubris is reminiscent of Muhammad Ali’s “pretty” face, but unlike Ali, he shifts responsibility away from what many Black Americans see as an ill-structured American governing system to the individual. It’s easy to assume he says this because he’s unaware of the atrocities made against his community by the U.S. government, but he is well aware. Driven by depression, when Lil’ Wayne was 12, he called the police before intentionally shooting himself in the chest. When the police arrived, instead of helping, they stepped over him to search for drugs and paraphernalia. He nearly died. We see that even early on, Lil Wayne is aware of his value (or lack thereof) to police officers and the correctional system.

“I stick to the script. I memorize the lines because life is a movie I’ve seen too many times.”

In a way, Wayne has been reformed by the prison system he’s just exited. To maintain his lifestyle and avoid returning to prison, Lil’ Wayne is willing to work hard and do what it takes to succeed. Contrastingly, he paints an unexpected picture of success, a “blunt blowing, Polo drawers showing” Black American. As is often the case with African American music, there’s a double meaning here. Maybe Wayne can’t change the connotations associated with his culture, but he CAN change his economic status to improve life for himself and his children. It’s not an unusual sentiment. When taken with the lyrics, the sad tones are representative of hopelessness, an unfeeling prison system, and a lifelong battle with depression. The excited exclamations can be attributed to Wayne’s wealth despite the odds against him, and most notably, his release from Riker’s Island.

 

“Freedom was my girl until they fucking took her” - Lil' Wayne, Blunt Blowin'

 

Until the first pre-chorus, the beat builds one or two instruments at a time. We start with the violin and cello, for example, then vocals. The structure of the music allows Lil’ Wayne to control the emotion of the song. One way artists control a song’s effects is with a crescendo. Crescendo means “to grow” and points to a gradual increase in volume. In the lead up to the chorus, there’s an anticipatory roll on the snare, and things are swelling towards crescendo. It feels like the music might burst or explode. He also uses crashes to add to the anticipation and shifts the violin upwards. The chorus is triumphant. The violin speeds up. There’s a syncopated snare in the chorus. Once all the instruments make their entrance, the music gains a disruptive yet celebratory quality. Compared to the otherwise structured nature of the piece, the sporadic nature of these notes is reminiscent of Bebop, a genre that spawned as a direct rebellion against Swing. Like the genre of Bebop, Lil’ Wayne’s Blunt Blowin’ celebrates freedom and creative expression.

 

“I’ve been gone too long. True or False? Right or Wrong?” - Lil' Wayne, Blunt Blowin'

 

After the chorus, the song mellows out a bit to prepare for the second verse. On the 8th bar of the second verse, the music cuts for just a moment before the piece returns reinvented. The layering is complicated. The beat leaves and comes back at its own discretion. It’s a little more active and chaotic than the beginning of the song, but still very structured and relatively consistent. The second verse is shorter than the first verse, but the third verse is even shorter.

Lil Wayne gradually shortens his verses throughout the song like he’s gaining speed. Although there are 18 bars in the first verse, there are 16 bars in the second and only 12 bars in the third verse. This is notable because there are additional bars at the beginning of the song. Lil Wayne begins relatively slowly in the first two bars and uses the extra time to add his signature lighter flick. In the next four bars, there are adlibs; i.e. “I’ve gotta put my shades on”. All this happens before an 18-bar verse, the longest of the song. So later on, it feels like Lil Wayne is rushing, but it’s unclear whether the hook accelerates towards the listener or Lil Wayne is running towards the end. This progression reminds us of the song’s first lyrics, “I live it up like these are my last days”.

In the song’s final moments, the violin stays upbeat, and the cello remains mournful. The snare, which was not present at the beginning, is still rebellious, and the listener leaves having experienced some of what Lil Wayne felt during a pivotal moment in the artist’s life. Another song on the album 6’ 7” is thought to reference the cells of Riker’s Prison, which are 6’ 8” in height. In a 6’8” prison, someone 6’7” in size would barely have room to move. Unsurprisingly, in both 6’7” and Blunt Blowin’ we see evidence that Lil Wayne feels constrained, which explains the duality of “ball and chain” plus “triumph and release” in the song. Maybe that’s why he spends most of the song talking about his wealth. He’s not just gloating; he’s reasserting his worth within a system that values money more than the wellbeing of people. Blunt Blowin’ depicts a reformed Lil Wayne flexing his economic success as well as the freedom and mobility it affords him. The message and tone of the piece are bittersweet; its celebratory origins are marked by elements of suffering, and it’s hard to tell if Lil Wayne’s sentiment is positive or negative overall.

 

“Hello, Weezy, welcome home.”  - Lil' Wayne, Blunt Blowin'

 

References

 

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