It’s been more than a decade since Lil Wayne first burst on the Hip Hop scene. It’s been a strange, if not entertaining career for the now 29 year old self proclaimed, “Greatest Rapper Alive”. There were no indications that Wayne would be anything more than the typical “South” emcee until he met Philadelphia Emcee Gillie Da Kid. There are rumors that Gillie is responsible for Wayne’s shift in style that occurred on the albums Tha Carter and Tha Carter II. Despite the controversy Wayne has remained one of the most popular rappers of the decade and arguably reached his peak with Tha Carter III. In the last three years since Tha Carter III was released Wayne has been on an artistic decline. There was the release of the head scratching rock album “Rebirth”and the scatter brained pre-prison album(He served 8 months at Rikers Island in 2010) “I Am Not A Human Being” It’s obvious that Wayne is in the twilight of a once promising career. He’s no longer the best emcee in his own camp(Young Money), I think that tag belongs to Drake. I find it curious that since Wayne met the Toronto rapper back in 2008 that his style changed again. Although Drake dismisses that he is Wayne’s new “ghostwriter” there’s is a noticeable similarity in the cadence and flow of The Young Money cornerstones. Drake has called Wayne his “mentor” but what happens when the student becomes the teacher? Tha Carter IV is the sad answer to that question as Lil Wayne becomes the latest rapper to fall victim to the ultimate adversary, time.
Tha Carter IV" isn’t a bad album, it just not a great album. Lil Wayne has never been the most complex emcee but he gained popularity because of his clever word play. Since he’s adopted the contemporary “Supa Dupa Style”(The Drake Style of delivery) we’ve seen him lose much of the wit and boundary pushing creativity that made him so appealing on Tha Carter’s II and III. In the Cash Money days he could relay on big beats from Mannie Fresh and a few clever quips. He grew as a lyricist during the Carter II and was arguably at his best on the Carter III. It seemed as Hip Hop expanded Wayne was growing along with it. This is the issue for Tha Carter IV, Lil Wayne isn’t little anymore, his freshness is closer to staleness. He is the representation of the double 0 decade of Hip Hop and as we enter a new decade Wayne seems to hit the end of his maturity as am artist. It could be do to burn out or hs much publicized drug abuse.
The “Intro” starts things off with a bouncy beat that’s supposed to be an anthem like record but it never truly delivers. Wayne spits forgettable lines like, “I’m goin in…like my water broke”. Huh? The “Intro” sets up the biggest issue of this album, repetition. Wayne uses the “Supa Dupa” style to rhyme for the sake of rhyming which creates a lack of cohesion.There’s no connection or narrative to the lyrics, just punchline after punchline. I don’t have a problem with the intro being what seems to be a freestyle. I can picture Wayne rapping with a red cup full of Ciroc in the studio as Drake passes him punchlines on a sheet of paper. This is essentially an album full of lyrical content like the “Intro”. “Blunt Blowing” has the feel of an updated track from Tha Carter II but it never quite delivers. The saving grace of the track is its booming bassline and self affriming hook, “Blunt blowin’ polo drawers showin”. “Megaman” produced by Megaman is another example of rhyming for the sake of rhyming and a growing lack of creativity from the New Orleans native. Yes, there are great punch lines but once again nothing to hold on to. The lead single “6 foot 7 foot” featuring Cory Gunz follows the same trend. There’s nothing wrong with creating songs to demonstrate lyrical wordplay or wit but taking this approach can’t sustain an entire album especially when the style is as repetitive as it seems to be here. “Nightmares at the Bottom” seems to have some kind of reference point but it feels like Wayne is tip toeing around the subject. However, this is one of the most complete tracks in the album and the juxtaposition of Nightmares against such a melodic beat is actually compelling. What isn’t compelling is Wayne’s inability to explore this. Tha Carter IV will probably be one of those projects that other emcees will quietly wonder what they could’ve done with some of the tracks.
“She Will” is probably the most radio ready cut on the album and will definitely get spins in the near future. Of course the track features Drake on the hook. Wayne must have been somewhat inspired by the studio session that produced this track. He spits lines like, “I already know that life is deep but I still dig her” and “Life on the edge…I’m dangling my feet”. Drake is on the hook with his signature whiny rasp as he sings, Maybe she will”. Who is this “She”? I have to believe that “She” is more than just the groupie of the night and actually a metaphor for something else. “How to Hate” seems like a “I Am Not A Human Being” left over. Why is anyone featuring T-Pain on songs anymore? This song once again proves that the game is passing Wayne by or that he’s having difficulty adjusting. “John”; sounds too much like “I’m Not A Star” and Rick Ross doesn’t seem like his usual “Magnificent”. “John” should have been a bonus track or a mix-tape release.
The track that’s pleasantly surprising is “Abortion”, which is another track that has a point of reference to gravitate towards. It’s not the best production wise but at least Wayne has something to keep him grounded. The hook is the closest that comes to the magic that was created on Tha Carter III. Wayne spits, ” know your name and your name is not important…we in the belly of the beast and she talking about abortion” Wayne is also a bit more lyrical as he spits lines like, “Sometimes you gotta find the devil with a demon”. “So Special” features John Legend and is a huge step up from “How to Hate” but it still doesn’t carry the weight of the Legend’s soulful crooning. Speaking of crooning, the auto tuned assisted “How To Love” is borderline unlistenable. It’s a skip track and I didn’t know auto tune was still being used, didn’t Jay-Z kill auto tune on Blueprint 3 with D.O.A.? Of course Wayne couldn’t do an album without mentioning or referring to Jay-Z. It’s widely known that Lil Wayne has been chasing Jay-Z for the last decade, either trying to emulate him or be “Mentioned in the same breath as him”. Wayne takes a shot at Hov on the pulse pounding “It’s Good”. He spits, “Talking bout Baby money…I got your Baby money…Kidnap your b*tch…Get that how much you love your lady money” Now the question is will Jay-Z retaliate? It must be noted that Hov fired the first salvo on the “Watch The Throne” single “H.A.M.” The fact that this is even a topic does not bode well for Lil Wayne. Jay-Z overshadows Hip Hop and has done what no other rap artist before him has been able to do, remain relevant for two decades
Tha Carter IV will be in the collective conversation of Hip Hop fans for a least the next few weeks as Lil Wayne’s supporters will find every reason why the album is a classic. The reality is this is not at all the product that people were expecting. Some causal fans may take a liking to some of the radio friendly tracks on this project but hardcore Hip Hop fans and realistic Wayne fans will agree that this is one of Wayne’s worst releases. Sometimes the road to redemption starts with a flop, Jay-Z had "The Best of Both Worlds", Nas had "Nastradamus", and recently Kanye gave us “808’s and Hearbreaks”;. Can Lil Wayne recover from “Tha Carter IV”, “I Am Not A Human Being”, and “Rebirth” It’s asking a lot but Wayne has proven in the past that he is talented and maybe he’ll surprise us again.