They say what goes up must come down.
In the mid to late 00’s, Lil Wayne went from rapper to super-mega star. And, most impressively, he did it entirely through quality and consistency by pumping out two strong albums with a pair of successful mixtapes. Unfortunately, most of his momentum stopped with the completely unnecessary rock-rap monstrosity of Rebirth, an 8 month prison sentence for a weapons charge, and enforced sobriety. Since being released, he’s had a few guest spots, a couple singles, and a not-good mixtape. All off this has been either implicitly or explicitly hyping what’s supposed to be The Best Rapper Alive’s return to hip-hop: Tha Carter IV.
Unfortunately, that’s not entirely the case. Don’t get me wrong, Lil Wayne’s still a solid rapper, but he spends most of Tha Carter IV in 2nd gear. Instead of inane verses and free-flowing what-the-fuck lines, he leans on puns and a running series of lines; “Life is a bitch…”, “Wheezy F. Baby and the F is for…”, “They say…so I…”. Also back is the always abhorred hashtag rap, featuring lines such as, “And them niggas pussies, cameltoes”.
Tha Carter IV was delayed once because Wayne was dissatisfied with some of the beats. The extra time seems to be time well spent since the beats are arguably the best part of this album. On “Nightmares of the Bottom”, the piano beats heavy bass production saves a track with at least three “Wheezy F. Baby, the F is for…” lines. Also, Wheezy, I’d love that F to be for “Find a new goddamn idea”. Sampling President Carter’s inauguration speech on “President Carter” was a great idea I’m surprised Wayne didn’t have earlier. And other times where Wayne just needs the beat to go hard, such as “Intro” and it’s corresponding “Interlude” and “Outro”, it does and it’s great.
Speaking of “Interlude”, it’s simultaneously the best track here and shows Tha Carter IV‘s biggest flaw. Indie rapper Tech N9ne kicks the track off with a verse that’s harder and faster than just about anything Lil Wayne does on the entire album, and not three seconds after he stops, an uncredited (Why?) Andre 3000 shows up, delivering a wicked verse with a hypnotic flow. And then the track ends with no Lil Wayne on it whatsoever. Wisely avoiding getting upstaged again, Wheezy also sits on the bench for closer “Outro”, which contains fierce verses from Nas and famous fast talker Busta Rhymes, as well as Bun B and Shyne, neither of whom stand out at all.
And that’s not the only time that Lil Wayne gets blown away on his own album. John Legend’s chorus on “So Special” is the only special thing about the song, and Drake’s dark chorus on “She Will” is part of what makes the song click as well as it does. Likewise, his verse on “It’s Good” spits more venom than Wayne does on the same track, and yes, this is the track where Lil Wayne threatens to kidnap Beyonce as part of some beef with Jay-Z.
That’s not to say that Wayne is entirely worthless here. He does pretty well when he goes it alone on the first four tracks of the album, peaking with “6 Foot 7 Foot”, a months old single that still has his best performance on the album. The track itself might be a messy remake of Rick Ross’ “I’m Not a Star”, but that doesn’t stop Wheezy from going all out on “John”. There’s also something about his performance on “President Carter” that just clicks, while he falls flat on songs like “Abortion”. But it isn’t all roses; the less said about the trainwreck “How to Hate”, the better.
Tha Carter IV stumbles in a way that’s fitting for a career that’s made some missteps on its way here. Far from a creative peak, Lil Wayne spends most of the album covering ground he helped break and chasing his own trends. It could be that he wrote himself out; after all, it’s not uncommon for artists to fumble on the comedown from a creative high. Maybe a sober Wayne won’t be as weird as a syrup Wayne. I’ll still take sober and alive over the logical conclusion of the alternative, but Tha Carter IV isn’t living up to his highest standards, sober or otherwise, three stars out of five.
tl;dr: There’s plenty of great things on Tha Carter IV, but Lil Wayne isn’t always one of them. 3/5.