Tha Carter IV
(Cash Money Records)
If the majority of hip-hop lyrics have been reduced to single-serving punchlines, then Lil Wayne is the Henny Youngman of rap. Evidenced by Tha Carter IV, he’s elevated the better-to-be-smart-than-clever mentality of modern rap to an art form, dishing out well-constructed metaphors without ever worrying about a context or larger concept. But without any substantive content to drive the album, much less hold it together, Wayne’s latest feels just a little bit like a missed opportunity, even if Tha Carter IV makes up for in refinement what its predecessors possessed in raw passion.
The album’s first single, “6 Foot 7 Foot,” threw down quite a gauntlet for fan expectations, and miraculously it offered an accurate reflection of the tone, sound and content of the entire album: its stripped down, irresistibly bottom-heavy instrumental is more than matched by Wayne’s raspy, rapid-fire lyricism, which champions his talent, reveals his interests, and offers a few unkind words to his enemies. That Tha Carter IV gets to “6 Foot” four tracks in and yet the first three could have easily taken its place on the radio is a testament to the sameness of the disc’s overall production, but the fact that that the rest of the album sounds at least vaguely similar but seldom drops off in quality is one to the consistency of Wayne’s verses.
But what the hell is Wayne talking about? And does it even matter? When the diminutive rapper says, “if you sleeping on me, n***a, I hope you’re toss and turning,” it’s the sort of line that feels immediately iconic, but it’s just one of a hundred that never go any further than offering a verbal middle finger to his “haters.” If the metaphor on The Carter III was of Wayne as a physician attempting to prescribe a solution to the stale state of contemporary emceeing, on IV it’s of him as a silver-tongued politician who can spin rhetoric like a poet but who lacks a platform; stuff like “I be so high, I get starstruck” and “money talks, mother*ckers eavesdrop” are great punchlines, but they’re ones absent of a meaningful set-up.
Mind you, Wayne didn’t transform mainstream hip-hop into what it’s become – mindless party music that glorifies success without offering self-examination – he just embodies it. And it’s clear from tracks on his previous albums, such as the devastating Carter III coda “Don’t Get It,” that Wayne does have more on his mind than weed, women and wiping out his enemies. And on this album, there are flirtations with some of those larger ideas, even if the most conspicuous ones are more reprehensible than reflective (“How To Hate” isn’t so much a bitter post-relationship riposte as a gratuitous revenge tome, exacerbated in its garish meanness by a autotuned chorus by T-Pain).
Ultimately, the 27-year-old has never lacked passion, and his latest offering demonstrates polish without a strong sense of purpose; that said, he’s still headed in the right direction, even if he hasn’t quite arrived where he should be by now. But without more substance to balance out Wayne’s superstar style, Tha Carter IV feels like a very good album, when – whether it’s fair or not – we’ve come to expect something no less than great.