1. Lil Wayne, “Did It Before” (from The Carter 3 Mixtape, 2007)

    When I Went For a Run on Sunday Afternoon in Baltimore

    When I went for a run on Sunday afternoon in Baltimore, it was 80 degrees and slightly overcast. It had been my third time running in five days, a feat I’d be proud of if it wasn’t such a reminder I had grown so out of shape. (TV shows I had been watching instead of doing something, y’know, active: “Cops,” “Campus PD,” “Next Food Network Star,” “Extreme Couponing,” “Breaking Bad.”) I run at Patterson Park, which is a huge park five blocks away from my house that hosts pick-up soccer games, baseball games and runs of various lengths by other out-of-shape and in-shape people. I like to do laps because it reminds me of high school (a weird thing to write) and the annual mile-run that always laughed in my face (even weirder). Laps are black-and-white measurements of where I am and where I want to be stamina-wise.

    When you first start running again after being a piece of shit, a good playlist is imperative. I recently purchased an iPod shuffle, something I once vowed never to do, because I’m broke and I drive three miles to work each day, so I only needed a few songs to get me short distances. (Strange aside: I lost my Product RED iPod Nano a handful of Fridays ago in a crowded theater seeing “Scream 4,” a film that technically sucked but was fun enough for its young star power. I started following Emma Roberts on Twitter when I got home that night.) I envisioned the Shuffle as a catalyst to get to Patterson, a device that’d kick me in the ass and motivate me to burn some calories. So far, so good, thanks to a playlist of mostly adrenaline-driven rap songs (Gunplay is on there; Waka Flocka’s “For My Dawgs” has been crucial) and nostalgia-inducing Saves the Day songs. (Don’t ask me why. I don’t have an answer.)

    As I was fighting to keep my legs moving at a decent pace (consider this a generous term), I rounded the bend located behind a backstop. A long straightaway was ahead, and Lil Wayne’s “Did It Before” came blaring through my earbuds. I first thought, “Ah, good song, this will work.” But then my mind kept going: What would Tha Carter III have been like if that huge leak hadn’t happened? You know, the one that featured “I’m a Beast,” the “Beat Without Bass” snippet, “La La” and “Did It Before.” These songs are  much rawer, for better and worse, than the final-product Carter III.

    "Did It Before" is one of the more polished songs, thanks to a saxophone sample courtesy of Kanye West (it is an unmistakable West production — drums too weak, OK bassline, a crown-jewel of a sample). But this is undeniably Wayne’s song, and he falls in love with his voice and the pattern it creates by forever repeating its title, "Did It Before," in predictable and unpredictable ways. He’s telling a story, surprisingly vividly, while tricking the ear to think he’s merely saying the same thing over and over. (I can picture my parents hearing this and asking me why he keeps repeating himself.) He’s rapping about fucking girls and their friends, wondering if they know his past. (He also uses names of women he’s been linked to — Lisa (Marie?), Tammy (Torres?) — slyly heightening the song’s realism.) Some MCs can pull off this kind of trickery, where the verses melt into the hook, and the hook blends back into the next verse, all while maintaining the narrative. These Wayne songs never crossover; they’re merely nuggets in a vast catalog that the obsessive fans love to claim as “personal favoritse.” His diverse crowds (just look at videos from the I Am Music and I’m Still Music tours) have many fans that prefer the songs he coasts on, using his swagger (the best in the business) to make bad lines sound good (“Leave ‘em dead in the living room / Get it? Dead in the living room” … groan). Recent examples have yielded strong results (“Hustle Hard” remix with its Kelly Bundy swagger) and yawners (that Jeezy “Ballin’” bullshit). But Wayne is still an artist, and he uses these lyrical exercises to stay sharp. Recent Carter IV throwaway “You Da Shit” and love-it-or-hate-it single “How to Love” use the “Did It Before” device with aims of pop grandeur. Instead of rapping, he’s singing through Auto-Tune, but the result is the same: pop hypnosis.

    That mesmerizing effect can do wonders late in a run. My feet were moving fine. I straightened my back for better posture. I wiped my brow. I felt a few drops of rain but didn’t pay them much attention. For three minutes and 43 seconds, I was lost in Wayne’s game of ping-pong between his New Orleans drawl and hard syllables (“DID,” “BE,” “FO”) and West’s beat, not reminding myself to breathe in through my nose or worrying how the forthcoming blisters would affect next week’s runs. Like I said, a good playlist is powerful stuff for a guy whose hell would be a half-marathon and never even considered the cross-country team in high school. I finished up my run not long after the song ended. The clouds were darker and I was getting wet. The only thought on my mind: God damn, this rain feels good.