August 31, 2011

Test Spins: Lil Wayne, Tha Carter IV

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There are very few names as synonymous with their art as Lil Wayne’s is with hip-hop. Since his 1999 debut solo album, Tha Block is Hot, Dwayne Carter has been one of the most consistently innovative — and consistently successful — rap artists in the history of the genre. His Tha Carter, Dedication and Da Drought series of albums and mixtapes are deservedly considered some of the best in their respective categories, with astounding commercial success to match.

As we know, every artist has a point at which his or her career is clearly going downhill. Unfortunately, Mr. Carter has reached that point. Enter Tha Carter IV.

Lil Wayne’s content has always leaned more towards the type of drugs, women, and money influenced material that tends to resonate both with the casual fan and the hardcore hip-hop head. Of course, he wouldn’t be Weezy if a few overly-clever lines weren’t thrown in for good measure. Tha Carter IV starts off in classic form with “Intro,” where Wayne states that he’s “still running shit/I’m on my cardio.” Unfortunately, his creativity almost immediately loses momentum on the subsequent track, “Blunt Blowin,” where he drops this pitifully cheesy line: “All about my riches/My name should be Richard.”

This kind of inconsistency remains constant for the duration of the album, and the pattern is sadly noticeable. The highlights of the album come from its many features; throughout the record’s running time, Carter tends to struggle on the tracks that lacks featured guests. This becomes alarming when one looks at the full feature list on the album: T-Pain, Tech N9ne, Andre 3000, Jadakiss, Rick Ross, Bun B, and Nas, amongst others. Perhaps Wayne is  leaning on the talents of his guests?

A pleasant exception to this rule is “Nightmares of the Bottom,” a ballad that is very unusual for an artist like Carter. The track begins with the age-old cliché of being “lonely at the top,” but Carter adds the unusual aspect of fearing his inevitable demise in the music world, even acknowledging the promising class of younger artists saying, “I’m looking in my rearview, I see the world in it/I try to slow down and I get rear-ended.” This is a refreshing change of pace when compared to the rest of Carter’s material, which consists mainly of self-hype and tough talk. However, “She Will” and “So Special,” which feature Drake and John Legend respectively, are redemptive and arguable the best two songs on the album. Both songs feature tip-top verses from Birdman, Jr., and catchy hooks from the featured artists, showing that Weezy has mastered the tricky art of the collaborative song.

Another aspect of the album that cannot go unnoticed occurs in “It’s Good,” featuring Drake and Jadakiss. This song would be just another track on the album, but Carter decides to throw in a diss directed towards one of the best of all-time, Jay-Z. The diss comes as a surprise, seeing as Wayne and Jay have collaborated in the past and gotten along. There is an official story behind the diss, but it is clear that Carter needed a publicity stunt to try and reenter the top tier of hip-hop artists.

Tha Carter IV is not an album that will please diehard Lil Wayne fans, many of whom were disappointed by Carter’s quick foray into rock with Rebirth, and were looking for a great album to prove that good ol’ Weezy was back. This is not that album. However, if you’re a casual rap listener looking for a quick, easy listen, C4 is a solid-enough project that will get the job done — but not much more than that.

Original Author: G. Andrew Volosky