Through the grace of good timing and a Groupon half-off deal, my friends and I attended Lil Wayne’s I Am Still Music tour stop in San Diego last month. Weezy performed a who’s-who of songs that rap heads complain about the most, including the unfortunate “How to Love”. While leaving, a group of girls exclaimed they were “going to the (Sigma) Chi party!,” a statement that indicated they were college freshmen, thus making my friends and I, all in our mid-20s, the old people at the rap concert. Alas, the jewel-encrusted heyday of Cash Money Records is something they were much too young for, as most probably couldn’t tell you how hot the block was.
Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter series traces its origins back to that era, and with respect to the Da Drought and Dedication series’, it’s the most important brand in his catalog. Projects like Rebirth are his jumpoffs, Tha Carter is the wife. And as an added inspiration, Tha Carter IV is his first Carter since his release from Riker’s Island. If rap heads love anything, it’s a post-incarceration album. But All Eyez On Me, this ain’t.
When “6’7” dropped nine months ago, Wayne appeared to still be enjoying himself lyrically, one of his biggest strengths. “6’7” was random, but catchy and ultimately a fun listen. Most of the Carter IV does not exhibit the same qualities. “Blunt Blowin'” gives us such underwhelmers as “I don’t need a bus pass to bust your ass” and “All about my riches, my name should be Richard,” and is backed by a Develop beat that is one in a line of “industry beats” that include the lazily-titled “Megaman”, produced by, uh, Megaman. “Megaman ” makes up for its I’ve-Heard-This-Beat-Before Syndrome with a variety of one-liners that range from the clever (“That’s my word word like thesaurus”) to the hashtag (“For dear life you’re holding on, En Vogue”) to the extremely random (“I’m a diamond in the rough like a baby in the trash”). It’s his most entertaining lyrical showing outside of “6’7”, as he leaves the rest of album ‘s entertainment up to his guests like Rick Ross on the “I’m Not a Star”-retread “John” and Drake on “She Will”.
It’s as if Wayne knows he doesn’t have his A-game, so he features rappers that are rap intelligentsia darlings to make up for it, enlisting guest-verse savants Andre 3000, Jadakiss, Nas, Bun B, and Busta Rhymes. Lil Wayne defers so much, he’s not even on the album’s best track, which happens to be the album-stealing interlude with Andre 3000 and Tech N9ne, who addresses his well-deserved surge in popularity after getting a Weezy shout-out.
Lil Wayne picked an odd time to diss Jay-Z on “It’s Good”, as he’s deteriorated as of late while Jay-Z is still sharp. The line in question, “Talkin ’bout baby money? I got your baby money, kidnap your bitch, get that ‘how much you love your lady’ money,” refers to Jay-Z’s “Baby money” line from “H.A.M.” and seems to confirm speculation about Drake’s comments from “Dreams Money Can Buy”. Lil Wayne talks Blood this, Blood that on “It’s Good” and numerous other tracks throughout his career, but I don’t see many hardened goons bumping “How to Love”, a song best described as “Bieber-esque.” While it’s terrible, Bieber sells more albums than your favorite rapper, so I see why he did it: to get Tha Carter IV into more minivans.
The ailments that plagued the patients in “Dr. Carter” from Tha Carter III are present in Tha Carter IV: it suffers from a lack of concepts and the vocab and metaphors need work. In his prime, which wasn’t that long ago, Wayne used to make it sound like it was so easy for him that he wasn’t even trying. Now it just sounds like he isn’t trying.