LIL WAYNE boasts that he's the best rapper alive, but he's not--he's just the best rapper any ward in New Orleans has produced. Tha Carter II (Cash Money), his fifth album, went platinum three months after its release last December, largely on the strength of the single "Fireman." Over simulated sirens and punching bass, Weezy raps with manic conviction about how his girl can't wear "jeans that show the ass crack." Why? "That's where my stash at." (He should find a new hiding place--he got popped last month with a couple J's and a bunch of unprescribed generic Xanax.) But just as crucial is "Georgia Bush," the outro of his latest mix tape with DJ Drama, Dedication 2: Gangsta Grillz, on which he lays down Katrina conspiracy theories and other anti-Bush vitriol. Even better is his team-up with Juelz Santana, "I Can't Feel My Face," a coke rap par excellence full of brainteasers like "Get up cus we up / Feet and knee up in the game / Put up or shut up / I hit ya head up Kurt Cobain." --Jessica Hopper
As hip-hop's become more of a multimedia dramedy spectacle, with a gossipy side straight out of Us Weekly and a telegenically violent side straight out of the WWE, music has become just one component of a package deal. That's why it's hard to believe DEM FRANCHIZE BOYZ, a group with zero charisma, has been so successful. I can't tell you any of their names, I forget what they look like two seconds after seeing a picture, and even though I've listened to their singles hundreds of times, I can only remember half a line from any of their verses ("Do the Matrix"). What saves the songs are the choruses and minimalist snap beats--they're so spot-on you'd think a bunch of robots created them (which might also explain a few things). --Miles Raymer
Chris Brown headlines, Ne-Yo, Lil Wayne, Dem Franchize Boyz, and Juelz Santana open. Sun 9/17, 7 PM, Charter One Pavilion, Northerly Island at Burnham Harbor, 1300 S. Linn White Dr., 312-540-2000 or 312-559-1212, $35-$65. All ages.