The jailbird sings: Listening to Lil Wayne
Tired of Dubstep? Then what better way to end the summer than with some good ol’ rhythm and beats from rap royalty artist Lil Wayne. The famed New Orleans rapper released his ninth studio album, Tha Carter IV, late last month to much anticipation and fanfare. Wayne was actively writing and releasing music while serving his eight-month prison sentence, and Tha Carter IV is his first album since his jail time came to an end in November 2010.
Selling almost one million copies in its first week, Tha Carter IV comes up only a few thousand copies short of its predecessor, Tha Carter III (2008), arguably the pinnacle album of Wayne’s artistic career. In an interview prior to the album’s release, the rapper told XXL Magazine that this could be his last.
Despite the unoriginal name, Tha Carter IV contains inherently unique tracks. Wayne is known for his slick musical style and his vulgar, yet clever turns of phrases, as evidenced by some of his more successful singles, such as “A Milli” and “Lollipop” from Tha Carter III. His latest album is certainly not dry of these elements, but there are fewer tracks focusing on self-hype and sexual vulgarity, and more on emotion, career scope and the rapper’s future.
The first track after the intro, “Blunt Blowin’,” opens with the lyrics, “I live it up like these are my last days / If time is money, I’m an hour past paid.” Isolation and distance are quintessential features of Wayne’s lyrics, but he almost always employs them in reference to the past, rarely concerning the future. In the second verse of “Blunt Blowin’,” Wayne ensures a secure future for the label he founded, Young Money Entertainment, the embodiment of his reputation: “Young Money’s eating, the label getting fatter / And, yea, the tables turned, but I’m still sitting at ’em.” Establishing this message at the outset, Wayne sets up this album as an ultimatum before his inevitable retirement.
Though Wayne admits he must soon meet his end, he does not claim to do it alone. Joining him on Tha Carter IV are numerous high-class rap acts, including Nas, T-Pain and Tech N9ne, as well as fellow Young Money artists Drake and Cory Gunz. Aiding Wayne in doing what he does best—lyrically tearing apart those who oppose him—outside contributors help diversify the body of the album into one of his most solid performances.
“6 Foot 7 Foot” is the perfect party single; its catchy bass-heavy beat is reminiscent of Wayne’s earlier work every good party blasting two years ago. A more alternative track featuring Drake, “She Will,” is completely unique within in the album and atypical of Wayne’s style in general; if anything, the track’s ambient beat and staggered lyrical flow are more indicative of Drake’s influence. For the “Interlude,” Tech N9ne spits a viciously quick rampage against an epic horn buildup, with an uncredited verse from Andre 3000 to finish off the track.
The biggest risks of the album are the juxtaposed tracks “How to Hate” and “How to Love.” Separate in both order of appearance and content, they partition the album. Drawing attention to these tracks, Wayne uses them to convey matters of family and relationships, about which he rarely writes in this vein. The rapper sings the hook of “How to Love” as if it were an R. Kelly lullaby, “You had a lot of crooks try to steal your heart / Never really had luck, couldn’t never figure out / How to love, How to love.” Wayne makes himself vulnerable as ever with his words in these dual tracks, but his sincerity is clear.
Wayne has been known to surprise audiences with unexpected stylistic choices, such as his recent rock album, Rebirth (2010). With Rebirth, Wayne experimented with guitar anthems and what it means to be a musical influence. But this is different. With a Grammy and nine studio albums, many of which have gone platinum, there is no longer anyone to impress. In the twilight of his career, perhaps Wayne realizes that this is his last chance to be heard while everyone is still listening.