While many hip-hop fans will challenge the artistic validity of the oft-repeated claim by New Orleans' Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. that he's "the best rapper alive," his commercial accomplishments are undeniable: His last album, "Tha Carter III" (2008), sold more than three million copies, garnered eight Grammy nominations and gave us one of the silliest guilty-pleasure hits of recent years with "Lollipop." But through it all, just like all the NBA and NFL stars who dream of trading places with him, the artist known as Lil Wayne has harbored a secret desire: He just wants to rock, man.
With a release date that's been pushed back half a dozen times since January 2009, Weezy's "rock album" was starting to seem more like a myth than a set of new music. But now that it's actually set to arrive in record stores on Feb. 2, it's obvious that it's actually a wildly misguided experiment that would have been better off remaining a rumor, especially since it's likely to be the rapper's last statement before reporting for a year in jail on charges of gun possession.
Some of the biggest problems are the same ones plaguing much of Lil Wayne's catalog: the annoying Auto-Tuned sing-speak of his choruses, the empty sexual boasts and clichéd street bragging of his rhymes, and the generic quality of many of his beats. The new twists are that those rhythms are delivered by a live, stomping rhythm section--though that hardly makes them more appealing--and they're decorated by a lot of hackneyed hair-metal guitar wank, as well as the occasional flourish of Queen-like glam-rock and Coldplay-style arena melodrama.
"This is that rock s---/This is hip-hop, b---," Wayne chants at one point, seemingly oblivious to the contradiction. Or maybe he's just setting up the argument he'd like the album to inspire. But "is it rock or is it rap" isn't the real question here; that would be, "How could anyone have thought this forced, joyless, plodding Frankenstein's mess was worth the trouble of releasing?"