Honestly, I expected Lil Wayne to take the Michael Vick route out of prison. Like Vick, Weezy was a man of almost overwhelming talent, capable of astounding displays of prowess that didn’t follow the playbook. But he could also be maddeningly inconsistent, depending on his natural skill to overcome bad decisions, on the mic and his personal life. Regardless of whether his lockup was just or not, like Vick I expected Wayne to take his incarceration as an opportunity to focus. I expected him to come out hungrier than a starving pitbull (get it?) and …
DJBooth Album Review
Tyson was still a force to be reckoned after he got out from behind bars, but instead of the unstoppable killing machine we saw before, the post-prison Tyson was obviously outclassed when he stepped into the ring with the game’s true elite (just ask Holyfield’s ear). This Vick/Tyson analogy is so dead on you should already know what I think of Tha Carter IV. Unlike athletics, it’s completely possible for Weezy to recover, and even get better as he ages, but right here, right now, not only is Carter IV not as good as Carter III, it’s not very good period.
Interestingly, the hype surrounding Wayne’s last two Carter’s roughly corresponds to their quality. For those who were in a coma in 2008, III was the most anticipated album...um...ever, and while not a classic Wayne delivered. On the other hand, the buildup to IV felt like a side note. Similarly, at times IV sounds like more like a mixtape than a historic comeback album from one of the biggest artists alive. As we learned from Rebirth, his hardcore fans will buy anything Wayne puts out, and respect due to him for building that fan base, but if you don’t own a Young Money poster, prepare to be unimpressed.
We might as well start at the beginning. By contrast, expectations for Game’s R.E.D. Album were just barely above basement - he responded by opening the album with a cinematic Dr. Dre intro and one of his best tracks ever (The City). Message sent, message received. Wayne? He opens IV with the completely forgettable Intro and Blunt Blowin. I’d focus on Wayne’s beat selection on both tracks – this is the best production money can buy? – but his lyrics are equally predictable: “I don’t give a f**k. You faker them some titties / you get titty f**ked.” Really? This is the same man who once laid a legit claim to the best rapper alive title? Really? Unfortunately, the underwhelment (it’s a word now) doesn’t stop there. On Megaman, Wayne busts out the same “have it your way…Burger King” line we’ve heard for a decade now, the auto-tuned drenched, T-Pain assisted How to Hate is more 2009 than Paranormal Activity, and what should have been an epic President Carter instead hits as hard as, well, Jimmy Carter. Weezy’s still far better than the average rapper on these tracks, but you can’t claim to be one of the greatest and release music like this. You just can’t.
My favorite moments on Carter IV are exactly the moments that so many of my peers will hate the most. How to Love may not be the song hip-hop heads bang out their speakers, at least when there’s someone else in the room, but it shows real evolution for Wayne. Unlike much of Rebirth, he sounds comfortable and organic on How to Love, and the same goes for Nightmares of the Bottom, which finds a leisurely Wayne at his most poetic and honest. Similarly, while Abortion is long on concept and short on execution, it at least dares to approach the border, if not cross it. If Kanye’s taught us anything, it’s that if you want to stay on top you have to continue to take risks, and while Carter IV does occasionally get adventurous (So Special), by and large it’s the same old same old from Wayne (John) – except he was better when he was younger.
From there Carter IV is really only notable for its guest features – Tech N9ne and Andre 3K on Interlude, Drake on She Will – and a Jay-Z diss from Weezy on It’s Good that now sounds silly considering how much better Watch the Throne is (a claim I don’t think even WTT detractors can dispute). So what happened? How did a rapper capable of greatness, a rapper who has always risen to the occasion before, fall so short on what should have been a triumphant return to the top? Maybe his newfound (relative) sobriety has ironically robbed him of his Martian rhyme skills. Maybe he’s more focused on running the Young Money empire and guiding Drake and Nicki than his solo career. Maybe he’s burnt out, maybe he just doesn’t care as much anymore, but whatever the reason, Tha Carter IV just doesn’t feel like one of the biggest albums of the year – at all. Before he was locked up Lil Wayne was neck and neck with Kanye, Jay-Z and Eminem for the best rapper alive crown. Damn, how times have changed.
DJBooth Rating - 3 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 08/29/11
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"Hollywood Divorce ft. Lil' Wayne & Snoop Dogg" (2006)
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