by MATT CONOVER
In 2007, Lil Wayne was releasing songs for free that could have made other rappers’ careers, and he never seemed to give two shits about it. That was just what Drought 3-era Wayne did. “Upgrade” could have been a hit single, but it didn’t matter, he had “A Milli” and “Lollipop” on deck. In fact, Tha Carter III would be so good that its leaked overflow would make for one of the best unofficial mixtapes of ’07, The Drought Is Over 2. Thus when he said “And next time you mention Pac, Biggie, or Jay-Z / Don’t forget Weezy baby!” on “Mr. Carter,” I was inclined to take him seriously. He had six gold records in the bag back in ’07-’08 (he has nine now—four are also platinum-certified), and seemed poised to push further artistically.
Now five years later with three mediocre to horrible albums behind him, Wayne’s hospital visits are making more headlines than his music. The shine he brought to every one of those glorious ’07 and ’08 releases has faded to the dim glow of a burnt-out rock star. Sadly, I Am Not A Human Being II does little to change this perception, and if anything indicates his indifference to said status. It follows the same formula as his previous successes, but with a fraction of the quality. The head turning moments of witty similes and metaphors come further and further between, aimless rants replace clever verse structures and concepts, the features are universally uninspired and the production follows instead of trying to set industry trends. Cumulatively, the general aesthetic feel is less fun, less untouchable genius-on-top, and more out-of-touch star with occasional hints of an addict’s desperation.
Weezy doesn’t make being fucked up sound fun anymore. The likes of “Gunwalk,” “No Worries,” “Rich As Fuck” and “Trippy” do the same thing over and over again, pimping a bravado that’s no longer convincing, let alone engrossing. His tolerance has increased to accommodate atypical beats, but they’re limply blurry instead of being imaginative or captivating. On “No Worries,” for instance, Wayne sounds hysterical, and in the context of his recent health problems, the track feels grotesquely disconnected from reality. Lame lines like “That camel toe that camel toe, no worries no panty-hose / These niggas falling off like baggy clothes, I smoke more than a magic show” make up most of what is an extremely annoying song after a couple of plays. His fucked-up-swagger-over-everything songs used to be transcendentally addictive to blast again and again, but these songs are mired by a lack of attention to detail. Tha Carter III-era Wayne and the crop of emcees that have subsequently come up (Drake, Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, Danny Brown and Schoolboy Q, among others) have set the bar for this kind of song a lot higher.
The album’s best moments come when he acknowledges and confronts the darkness that’s increasingly associated him with. The title track, by way of its all-piano production, creates a mood that feels appropriately dramatic and hints at tragedy. He acknowledges his habits (“Medicine, I treat it like peppermints”) and the stubbornness that perhaps sustains them (“I rather ring ya fuckin’ neck before I ring the alarm”), but defaults to the lyrical facade of Wayne as baller, and that persona is no longer shiny enough to cover up billowing darkness of the backing track. “I just fucked this piano,” he claims at song’s end, but, in this case, dude might be better off shutting up and getting tested.
The darkest and most successful moment of the album is “God Bless Amerika,” which sees Wayne painting himself as a “butterfly in hell” in a “Godless Amerika” where “the end of time is like an hour away.” In the context of his recent history, it’s just about the only time his on-track persona is convincing. Like the addict who still refuses to get help or even acknowledge that he needs it, he says “Everybody wanna tell me what I need / You can play a role in my life but not the lead.”
While the attitude is effective for one track, it’s ultimately what’s most frustrating about the record and Wayne’s post-Tha Carter III career. The music isn’t as good as it was, sure, but what’s truly maddening is his apparent indifference to his own decline. He’s still a star, but with each passing release now, he unconsciously burns off a little more of the reputation he had built for himself. Here’s to hoping this is a set-up for a comeback and not the beginning of a final, spiraling descent. [D]
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