If Lil Wayne cares at all about his legacy he best hurry up and die. I don’t mean to say I want him dead for any personal reason, but as fans of his music lets be honest, the three tracks thus far released off of the upcoming ThaCarter IV have fallen a little short of expectation. What’s Wayne’s problem? Aside from the fact he’s drinking kidney crisping quantities of liquid codeine, it’s the same reason we fell in love with him in the first place. Do you remember?
There used to be a time in hip-hop when a verse had 2-3 moments of pure lyrical ecstasy (an ‘awwww sheeyit’ moments in industry parlance). The rest of the verse was taken up by what you might loosely refer to as a narrative. Rap was, and in a large part still is, a story telling medium. Lil Wayne cut all that shit out and gave us what most of us really wanted to hear, clever double entendres and filthy one liners. His were so good we ignored the fact these delicious morsels weren’t connected by any sort of logic aside their form. Sure, there are exceptions to this. He’s rapped a few stories and some concept tracks, but the real reason we’ve come to revere him as a living hip hop god is his ‘oh snap’ appeal: sis ability to take 6 seconds of your time and twist an idea or word in such a new and tight way to that to unravel its taught, breathless construction leaves you with the anxiety of a snapped rubber band. His ability to do this 30 times in one song is unheard of, or at least not unpracticed before he made it popular. Now there are a slew of impersonators.
But as I said, at its heart hip-hop is a story telling art, and Wayne never really weaved us a compelling narrative. The reason we never stopped listening to Biggie in the suburbs is because he was a fantastic storyteller, and as different as I may have been in almost rural Washington, the fundamental elements of his stories were universal. Each spittle-ridden verse revealed more of his character, place and time. Biggie did this while selling a vivid fantasy woven seamlessly into the odyssey of his late teens and early twenties. Eminem did this while connecting with his audiences via the frustrations so mundane they’d been overlooked by rappers for fifteen years. 50 Cent became irrelevant because he forgot to rap about struggle and instead rapped about Bentley wheels dilated with chrome and things he’d do to my bitch if he were to ever chance upon her in the VIP. We still listen to Jay-Z because he still tells the truth, even if Blueprint III doesn’t hold a candle to the raw power of Reasonable Doubt. He’s yet to lie to us and for some reason we owe him a listen when a new album is released.
Lil Wayne is guilty of never telling the truth, and to distract us from this he didn’t really rap as we know rap, but rather turned rap into this magic trick. Big Boi said it best in a shot he took at Wayne on his latest record, Daddy Fat Sax, “I write knock-out songs, you write punch lines for money.” This seven-syllable deconstruction of Wayne’s appeal has the power to ruin him, much as the “Manatee” episode of South Park took something away from Family Guy that it can never get back. While his skill is impressive, the more we reward his singular trick the less likely it will be for dissimilar artists to get any exposure. While this is true of any trend, nowadays a rapper has to sound a LOT like Wayne to get airplay, but what separates this from earlier trends in lyricism is that Wayne’s really only doing one thing. What used to be a proverbial rap stew of varying techniques and topics squaring off for market share, is now have Lil Wayne dictating through his popularity a maximum of one to two styles with a 30 metaphor minimum. Here’s the problem: if Illmatic or Reasonable Doubt were to be released today we wouldn’t have the attention span to get to track two. Now I you may think I’m guilty of suggesting that the music has simply evolved into something I don’t like. Typically, when a critic refers to a medium being dumbed down it’s because they don’t like the new-fangledness and lack the perspective to measure the new material. As style trends and double back and fold into themselves it takes a truly panoramic understanding of the medium to never feel hopeless at its state. Wayne hasn’t blown hip-hop up, he’s put all of its value in a single detail, and if he follows himself into that minute facet I fear it’s far more likely we will catch on to his trick than he will outrun us into some fractal infinity within this detail. He’ll have to find a new place to mine fresh wow. Can he?
I Am Not A Human Being is a great record name, but a weak record. Anyone that loves Wayne’s mix tapes knew flat out that it was just an excuse to make money. Most of the songs, I’ve read, were from the ‘maybe’ pile after Carter IV sessions. His No Ceilings mix tape, like a lot of his mix tapes, came out around the same time and was not only better, but free. As impressive as the mix tape phenomenon has been the last ten years, it has a downside. People don’t remember mix tapes in the same way they remember a record; even if it’s essentially the same thing. A mix tape is a cameo to a full length’s staring role. Long story short? The hip-hop industry might be the most brutal of all music industries. You’re either on the rise, trying to maintain artistic credibility, shot dead in an elevator, or a joke. Half of these can pay your rent. There is no graceful way to bow out in hip-hop. Just ask EM – AY – DOLLAR SIGN – EE.
I’m having a very hard time watching the music video for “John” Ft. Rick Ross and not thinking we’ll all be laughing at this very soon. That is of course unless he ends up dead from complications of being exactly what we pay to see.