When it comes to Waka Flocka Flame, you know you’re doing it wrong when you go into it close-minded and expecting hyper-intellectual music. That’s not to say dude is incapable of addressing serious issues, because he does just that here and there while referring to his lost comrades, friends, and family members. But for the majority of his records, the seemingly always turnt-up Queens-born, Atlanta-based rapper is essentially his own hype-man.
It’s that drunken “ROLLIN!!!!!!!!!” and “FLEX!!!!!!!!” version of Waka that remains the strongest voice on his latest mixtape, Salute Me or Shoot Me 4: Banned From America. Across its 15 tracks and hour-long running time, he rarely chills out to drop something as coherent as, say, the still-addictive “Round of Applause”. You can say what you want about the tired nature of stripper anthems, but Waka and Drake banged out one of the best radio-rap singles of 2011 with that track. Additionally, it again proved the versatility of Lex Luger, who remains one of the better, albeit wrongly used, producers in the “trap” scene.
But if you’re looking for a refined, well-executed jam like “Round of Applause” on Salute Me or Shoot Me 4, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Instead, Waka frequently raps about ingesting Molly (aka the molecular form of MDMA), being turnt-up, and flexing on his enemies. Those qualities are especially present on the tape’s parking lot bangers; from unapologetic professional wrestling ode “Randy Savage” to uber-violent killer anthem “Murda”. The latter track feels dangerous, however, when Chief Keef’s “bang, bang” ad libs begin weaving their way through the John Carpenter-on-steroids synthesizers and trunk-rattling drums. It doesn’t help, of course, that Keef recently joked about a murder in his hometown of Chicago.
The tape reaches its moment of clarity on closing track “Realist Shit I Wrote”, a fitting title for, you guessed it, the realest track on here. This is Waka’s chance to bare his soul and reflect on everything he’s seen with his blunted eyes—from his best friend being strung out on cocaine to his parents being killed. It’s essentially a Future track, Auto-Tune warbling and all, but it sounds sincere coming from Waka’s strained vocal cords. Although, it makes me wonder if we’re destined to hear more and more projects like this end with something from the heart: see Gunplay’s 601 & Snort.
Where Waka succeeds on Salute Me or Shoot Me 4 is also where he fails. It’s essentially more of the same minus the verve that makes his singles so goddamn enjoyable. It could simply be that dude’s taking the standard mixtape route with this project, which means it’s full of pseudo-throwaways for his fans. That also means everyone else will be left feeling shortchanged, figuratively speaking, as they wade through piss-poor audio levels, screaming DJs, and far too much fluff. It’s OK to take your time between releases, Waka, no one is going to forget about you. And even though the rating for this tape is low, do be sure to same some of the aforementioned cuts for your next brawl.