This time last year, Lil Wayne was watching the MTV Video Music Awards from his prison cell on Rikers Island and plotting the release of "Tha Carter IV" timed to the day of his November 2010 release. Delays, delays -- and with Jay-Z and Kanye West also pushing their joint debut from January to August, the year's two most highly anticipated hip-hop albums showed up within weeks of each other. Wayne's is a bit more disappointing.
If you hadn't already heard the leaked album, watching Weezy close Sunday's VMAs might have given hope. So he opened with an alarming acoustic ballad, "How to Love," but he quickly broke into a Black Sabbath-inspired rock jam, "John," joined on stage as he is on the recording by Rick Ross, and ended by smashing a guitar and appearing gloriously unhinged.
"Tha Carter IV," however, is all too tightly hinged. The same week his I Am Still Music Tour wound up in Chicago last spring, Wayne, 29, was predicting retirement by 35, and this album bears the mark of setting up a sell-out for pure Cash Money. "Looked in the mirror, said, 'You's an ill nigga,'" he wheezes during the lurching soul of "Abortion." "Then I ran to the money like a track-and-field nigga."
The middle of the album suddenly goes very supper-club, for instance, featuring three tracks that open quietly with just the sound of Weezy lighting and exhaling something. Over the cascading piano chords and strings of "Nightmares of the Bottom," Wayne admits to being "clueless" and that "life is a course and I'm-a shoot for par." Most of these tepid slow jams, yessiree, sound like he's ready to cover his tats with argyle socks and hit the links.
It happens again toward the end. "So Special" finds John Legend cooing a romantic refrain in between Wayne's raunchier descriptions of sex. "How to Love" is a ballad Diane Warren could appreciate. In "President Carter," Wayne claims other rappers are sweet like tiramisu compared to how much "harder" he is -- all while purring his flow over more delicate strings and soft, hand-me-down beats. Absurd.
The few hard moments are still as exciting as the pre-prison rascal. "Six Foot, Seven Foot," available for months, considers mortality amid a rambling string of rhymes as loopy as we've come to expect from this anything-goes freestyler (gotta still love "real G's move in silence like lasagna"), and "John" is fiery, mostly because of the muscle from Ross (who closes his first verse mentioning "well connected got killers off in Chicago," referring to his own "B.M.F." song and the case of a jailed local gangster).
In another one, he mentions flicking his joint ashes into his Grammy award. Just be sure to empty that out, Weez, because there's likely not another one coming your way.
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