Weezy stumbles on ‘Carter IV’
Fresh off a bit in Rikers Island for weapons charges, Lil Wayne, aka Tunechi, is back with his long-awaited album “Tha Carter IV.”
You have to acknowledge what made Wayne great in the beginning to understand why this album is different. One word: swagger. He said he was the best rapper alive and we believed him. And why wouldn’t we? He released “Tha Carter II” in 2005, showcasing an entirely new Birdman Jr. He experimented with his flow and took chances with his lyrics, brandishing the wordplay that would become his trademark.
Since the release of “Tha Carter III” in 2008, he’s been on a losing streak, releasing “Rebirth” and “I’m Not a Human Being.” Both were more misses than hits. “Rebirth” was especially bad, with Wayne playing out his rockstar fantasies across an entire album’s worth of material.
His three-year dry spell made me look at this album like a gift. I could open it and find out it’s not really what I wanted or I could just leave the wrapping on and imagine it was perfect. I wish I’d used my imagination.
The album opens nice enough with the 1-2-punch of “Intro” and “Blunt Blowin’.” The former is an ode to what he’s missed after being locked up for eight months. “I got some money on me, and the weed nice / my s— won’t ever stop, suck my green light,” he raps over a slow and building beat, accented with keyboard horns that only add to the vibe.
“Blowin” comes close to matching the swagger he had no problem bringing on previous albums, but even then I don’t buy it. There’s no conviction behind the words. Wayne has slowed down his delivery in a big way and gone are the rapid-fire verses.
We were spoiled for years with a steady flow of material; “Dedication 2,” “Da Drought is Over 2,” “Da Drought 3″ and “No Ceilings,” just to name a few of his many mixtapes. Most of these albums were released for free download. Some were even considered the best rap album of their respective years and this was Weezy messing around between proper major label releases.
There are fans and critics who would argue that releasing all the mix-tapes taxed his creativity, asking him to do too much.
“Megaman” isn’t terrible and serves to let others know that Wayne isn’t to be messed with. “That AK sleep on the side of my bed, that’s one eye closed and one eye open / Your cap get peeled like Ibuprofen,” he raps.
“6 foot, 7 foot” was leaked prior to the album’s release and has been floating around online for a good bit. It was fun the first few times I heard it, but the backing track grows annoying after repeated listens. Like just about every song though, you can find a few good lyrics buried beneath a mountain of bad ones.
A lack of consistency is the major reason I can’t recommend anyone go out and buy this album. Go back and listen to “Tha Carter II” and be reminded of how tight it was lyrically, how smart and provocative it was, then listen to this album. If you’re not sad at the drop-off in quality, you’re either not listening hard enough or you don’t want to admit the truth.
We’re left to ponder what went wrong. Was it the time behind bars? Maybe it was the constant mixtape releases or the more recent failures of his major-label releases, but this is not the same rapper that gave us “Tha Carter II.” The raw energy, the believability, it’s all gone. He’s practically meek. Of course he still weaves tales of his sexual prowess, but they just fall flat. The boasts ring so hollow they’re almost embarrassing.
“How to Hate,” featuring T-Pain, is a hot mess. Are we not done with auto-tune yet? The lyrics can’t even come close to saving it; “You used to be the s—, but now you ain’t s—, b—,” really? Is that what passes for clever?
There was always a weird vibe to Wayne’s music. He referenced pop culture; obscure mentions would litter an album. He found a way to take things and mold them into wordplay that actually made you say, “Oh, I see what he did there.” Part of the fun was catching these little kernels on the second or third listens. What’s worse is he doesn’t even have the best flow on his own album, that distinction is a tie between Andre 3000 on “Interlude” and Nas and Busta Rhymes on “Outro.” Curiously, Weezy is nowhere to be found on either track.
I think he’s simply run out of ideas. This album is the sound of an artist hitting the wall. He is not saying anything new here. There are far too many other talented artists out there for me to listen to one who isn’t challenging me. He will need to reinvent himself, yet again. He must summon the courage to look deep and find exactly what it is he wants to say. Or maybe he’s said all he has to say and this is it? He has talked about retiring before.
The last song on the album, “Mirror,” with Bruno Mars, hits more emotionally than any banger on this album. It’s a man confronting himself, realizing where he’s been and where he came from. “I see the truth in your lies, I see nobody by your side / But I’m with you when you’re all alone, and you correct me when I’m looking wrong,” he raps. There’s real emotion as he delivers the lines. “Looking at me now, I can see my past, damn I look just like my f—–’ dad / Light it up, that’s smoke and mirrors, I even look good in a broken mirror / I see my momma smile, that’s a blessing, I see the change, I see the message.” He is aware of his shortcomings and appears to know what he needs to do. I hope he gets it done. And if he wants to make another album, start with “Mirror” and build on THAT feeling.