Few moves say as much about an artist’s standing in hip-hop like instigating beef.
Unquestionably, the biggest star in hip-hop with the release of Tha Carter III, when the rapper delivered that album he caught the ears of his widest audience to date. With 3 million copies of that blockbuster sold, it is his musical direction since that has made long-time fans jump ship and newcomers lose interest.
There was his attempt at a ‘rock’ album — Rebirth. An 8-month prison sentence for weapons charges. The forgettable release of I Am Not A Human Being during that stint. The explosion of Young Money behind Drake and Nicki Minaj asserting themselves on the charts and the countless other artists rumored to be signing with the imprint.
Fast forward to today and Wayne’s still a giant of the genre, but his buzz now is a shell of its former self. His biggest recent headline was the star getting nine stitches after falling off a skateboard in St. Louis.
His perceived shot at Jay-Z, in response to a lyric from Watch The Throne that many took as a insult directed at Baby (a.k.a. Birdman), plays off that verse with Wayne spitting, “Talkin’ bout Baby money, I got your Baby money. Kidnap your b-tch, keep that, how much you love your lady, money?, I know you fake ni—a, press your brakes ni—a, I’ll take you out, that’s a date, ni—a.”
Wayne’s ambiguous answers when asked about the dispute aren’t anything more than marketing gamesmanship. It’s what bloggers and message board posters love the most: speculating on beef.
Tha Carter IV leaked last Wednesday and drops in the wake of a lackluster mixtape, Sorry 4 Tha Wait, and minus a monster hit like “A Milli” powering it up the charts. “6 Foot 7 Foot” did what it could to quiet murmurs about the album’s potential lack of focus and potency but antennas were already raised that this may not be the long-awaited comeback many Wayne fans wished for.
What’s instantly striking is just how flat Wayne comes off. While the content and subject matter is nearly identical to his past hits, the energy and passion that was there before is glaringly absent.
From its onset, Wayne’s delivery is overly formulaic. Each bar ending with a predictable and uninspired punchline that may have flown an album ago but don’t have the same impact now. A few even elicit audible sighs.
When he isn’t tossing out ground ball lyrics, he’s swinging for the fences and coming up short time after time, although a handful of tracks have staying power.
The beats certainly knock. But, at best, they are slightly above average with a few exceptions that shine in their own right.If you were to use “6 Foot 7 Foot” as the bar for the rest of Tha Carter IV, few tracks even slap the backboard of that slam dunk.
The “Outro” with Bun B, Nas, Shyne and Busta Rhymes is absolutely engaging because of the collection of talented guests alone. Tracks like “She Will” with Drake and “Interlude” with Tech N9ne — an unexpectedly dope feature — and Andre 3000 are rare moments of clarity amid an directionless album.
Rick Ross totally carries “John,” giving Tha Carter IV a dose of what’s working for him and Maybach Music Group lately. Once you get to “Abortion” and “So Special” with John Legend you might begin to think things are finally starting to click only to have lazy, beginner bars squander the momentum. (Honey bee, buzz buzz, really?)
Purists will slander “How to Love”, ignoring the crossover appeal, although it seems better suited for Chris Brown than Weezy. Tracks like “President Carter” stand out as the Wayne you yearned to hear but as fun they attempt to be, can’t shake the feeling of dated material.
Could it be listeners are just all Wayne’d out? After milking every bar of the rarified lyrical air he was in from Dedication 2 through Tha Carter III. After countless mixtapes and collaborations, the answer to the current Lil Wayne conundrum may very well be he has nothing lyrically compelling left to say.
Not that he can’t or won’t make hit records again but to expect anything he releases to even near the plateau he reached on Tha Carter III may be a false hope.
Tha Carter IV makes it hard to ignore the waning star of Lil Wayne. How much of this album’s bad aftertaste can be blamed on his three-year absence and the wildly different expectations of a hit album listeners have now thanks to broader, more eclectic mainstream hip-hop releases and the rise of indie artists?
Take “How to Hate” for example. Certainly serviceable, but the token T-Pain auto-tune feature jumped the shark with Lonely Island’s “I’m On A Boat” and it’s a prime example of how hip-hop tastes have evolved while Wayne hasn’t.
Absence is supposed to make the heart grow fonder but in this case it has given listeners too much time to move on and Wayne too much time to get rusty. Following his ascent since being Hot Boys member and The Block Is Hot era, the hope is that Tha Carter IV is just Wayne shaking off the rust of jail, addiction, and the inevitable come down from his greatest heights. My gut says he’ll never be the same. That lightning in a bottle he captured before will be too hard to duplicate.
I’d willingly admit expectations were too high, but why expect less from someone who had a legitimate argument that he was the best rapper alive just three years ago?