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Late and (somewhat) lacking

The long-awaited new album by Lil Wayne, self-proclaimed "best rapper alive," is full to bursting with the good and bad.

'"Yezzir!" Lil Wayne exults at the start of

Tha Carter III

, the most anticipated - and most often delayed - hip-hop album of 2008. "They can't stop me. Even if they stopped me."

The 25-year-old New Orleans rapper, whose mother named him Dwayne Carter Jr., has gone from being just another late-1990s Hot Boy in the Cash Money Millionaires posse to being an omnipresent auteur, second only to Jay-Z as a most desired guest on every marquee hip-hop and R & B release you can think of.

Lil Wayne proclaims that even if all the "haters" out to end that rise were to stop him, literally, dead in his tracks, his music would live on eternally. Just like that of other larger-in-death-than-life martyrs, such as Tupac Shakur, and Notorious B.I.G.

And as the world has been waiting for Tha Carter III (Cash Money ***), originally scheduled for the fall of 2007, who exactly has been hatin' on Lil Wayne? Turns out, it's not just outspoken critics of his oft-profane lyrics like the Rev. Al Sharpton, whom Wayne spends altogether too much time addressing while sounding defensive on the overlong album closer "Don't Get It."

And it's not just jealous MCs, who wish they could keep pace with the frantically prolific Wayne, who since opening eyes and ears with the 2005 album Tha Carter II, has been releasing mixtapes and making scene-stealing cameos at a dizzying rate - on Kanye West's "Barry Bonds," Jay-Z's "Hello Brooklyn" and Usher's "Love in This Club" remix, to name a few.

No, it's not only his fellow man who is envious of Lil Wayne. It's also the moon, stars, and sun. Mother Nature herself wishes to possess what comes to Lil Wayne so naturally. On "Mr. Carter," a Just Blaze-produced Carter II highlight, in which, it must be said, the star of the show is outshone by Jay-Z (whose last name is also Carter), Lil Wayne puts it this way:

Man, I got summer hatin' on me 'cause I'm hotter than the sun

Spring hatin' on me 'cause I ain't never sprung

Winter hatin' on me 'cause I'm colder than y'all

And I would never, I would never, I would never fall.

Lil Wayne is like the Bob Dylan of hip-hop. He has a scratchy-voiced delivery and a frog in his throat, and, along with a sly sense of humor, he has no pride when in need of a rhyme. He's been so busy of late, however, that he's shown signs of recycling his own ideas: On Tha Carter III, he uses the word Viagra, which he seems uncommonly fond of, for the umpteenth time in a song, though this time he at least resists the urge to pair it with Niagara.

Wayne - whose nickname is "Weezy," as sitcom dad George Jefferson used to call his wife - freely admits in "Don't Get It" that "I live in the suburbs, but I'm from the 'hood." But nobody's about to doubt the street cred of the rhymer who, as a member of his original group, the Hot Boys, had a hand in the early dissemination of the term "bling," and was most recently arrested in January in Arizona when marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy and a pistol were found on his tour bus.

Among the young kingpins of hip-hop, Kanye West is the urban sophisticate who produced "Comfortable" on Carter III, deploying a Babyface-sung hook, which, Wayne boasts, "My ma'am's gonna like." Wayne is the raw, unpredictable clown prince who'll surprise you with a serious idea if you underestimate him, while conveying the romance of the street. His music is jittery and tense, but rarely as punishingly heavy-handed as, say, 50 Cent's. For proof, check out the fractured, jumpy "A Milli," one of several Carter III singles.

So does Carter III measure up as the long-awaited masterpiece by the self-promoter who has called himself "the best rapper alive, since the best rapper retired." (That was a nod to then-on-the sidelines Jay-Z.) Not hardly. That's partly because it's an overreaching mess, chock-full of guest appearances - by Bobby Valentino, Robin Thicke, T-Pain, among many others - and a jumble of too many ideas.

Some of them are good, like the jazzy, Swizz Beatz-produced "Dr. Carter," in which Wayne amusingly pretends he's a physician, aiding rapper patients suffering from ills such as lack of concepts, originality, weak flow, and a shortage of style. (Wayne, it goes without saying, feels he is strong in all those departments, and is largely correct.)

Some are lame, like the unimaginative erotic fantasy "Mrs. Officer."

And some are excellent, like "Tie My Hands," a post-Katrina lament featuring a sweetly honeyed vocal by Thicke, in which Wayne raps "My whole city is underwater . . . no governor, no help from the mayor, just a steady beating heart and a wish and a prayer."

Though mainstream media and major label marketing efforts are focused on Tha Carter III, the old-fashioned album is not Weezy's metier. And its 77-minute length is too much for Wayne, an artist with no attention span, to sustain. He was more impressive when working with fewer guest stars on January's exemplary five-song EP "The Leak."

Wayne's preference for recording whenever he's moved to, and releasing the results on mixtapes such as "Da Drought Is Over, Part 4," suits his ADD nature while keeping fans busy with a constant stream of music.

Tha Carter III was, indeed, worth waiting for, but there will undoubtedly be more from the same place - and soon.