About a week ago, Lil Wayne fans around the world were reminded that their beloved rapper is, indeed, a human being. Primed to release the follow-up to his lukewarmly received I Am Not a Human Being
(2010), Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr., was checked into the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on March 12th after suffering a seizure. The details of his visit and severity of his illness have been disputed by Cash Money Records CEO Birdman and the various tabloid websites that first picked up the story, but the whole episode regardless lends a morbid irony to the title of his new album. Lil Wayne’s artistic message--nay, his entire persona--is abrogated by the details of his personal life, his chants of “We are not the same; I am a martian” cancelled out by the veritable truth that Lil Wayne and I are, at the core of our being, the same, except that Lil Wayne drinks way more cough syrup. Whether or not it seems fair, the man’s career has been defined by a downward-sloping narrative that starts somewhere around 2008’s great Tha Carter III
, this narrative a swirling hydra of drugs and Auto-Tune and casual trips to prison that seems to find its nadir here, with this album. I Am Not a Human Being II
, its release symbolically coinciding with Wayne’s near-death experience, is the sound of a rapper flatlining.
Or is it? The downfall of Weezy is a narrative that has been gamely challenged by his defenders (see: Calum Marsh’s review of We Are Young Money
 for Cokemachineglow) and by Wayne himself, who it must be noted has quietly released a lot of great material in the period apparently condemned to be his rock bottom (“Swag Surf”? Best song ever). Regardless of its quality (spoiler alert: bad), there’s something about I Am Not a Human Being II
that feels almost like a victory lap. The syruped-up Auto-Tuned clusterfu
cks to which Wayne has assigned his name for about five years have suddenly become something of a commodity. Future, the up-and-comer whose head-scratchingly overrated Pluto
(2012) molded circa-2009 Weezy into a cohesive vision, provides the hook to hit single “Bitches Love Me,” the hip novice helping out the veteran on an aesthetic they can agree upon.
All this means is that I Am Not a Human Being II
is not the malignant abortion its contextual framework has it set up to be. This is not The End of Lil Wayne. This is an album of party music--a rapper in relaxed mode, going hard for a few tracks but soft on most others, riding whichever latest trends suit his fancy. That is prima facie okay; the album will generate the same wild range of opinions we’ve come to expect from a Wayne album. Sadly, it’s also a pretty boring
approach, so much so that, indeed, I find myself wanting to write around
the album than about
it. I’ve never been a fan of the defense that a critical piece on a work of art should mirror some aspect of its subject, but finding myself shouldered with the task of reviewing this album, I must capitulate. Aside from its opening track, which I’ll get to, this album is essentially a blank space--synths gurgle, Weezy fizzles, an hour passes. “Wowzers” sees a typical effort from Wayne: “My tongue is an Uzi / My dick is an AK / My tongue is an Uzi / My dick is an AK / My tongue go, ‘brrrrrr,’ / My dick go, ‘pow!’ / My tongue go, ‘brrrrrr,’ / My dick go, ‘pow,’ bitch.” Or, from “No Worries”: “Now take your fu
cking clothes off, let me see that Donkey Kong / I swing your ass back and forth, back and forth on my monkey bar.” On “Curtains,” he “fu
ck[s] the world, no condom” for at least the thirtieth time in his career. You get the idea. How does one write about something so compliant in being so braindead? Wayne’s wordplay has devolved from genuinely clever--even eye-opening, at its best--to just sort of smashing words and phrases together if they sound alike. “Pussy” is repeated so frequently that it loses its meaning as a linguistic unit. On “Trippy,” the syrup practically dribbles from his mouth.
This, of course, has always been the fiber out of which Wayne constructs his off-kilter vision of rap music. The fans still holding strong look back dewy-eyed upon Tha Carter II
(2005), Dedication 2
(2006), and Da Drought 3
(2007), but we often forget that Lil Wayne was as relentlessly silly, even dumb, on those albums as he is these days. There’s a difference, though: that silliness came packaged with an undeniable exuberance, an endless fascination the vernacular of rap and its multitude of convergences. Listen to the breathless opening lines of something like “Fly In” (“They call me Mr. Carter / I kissed the daughter / of the dead’s forehead / I killed the father”), and then, well, just about any track here. Once again, I’m loath to buy into a narrative that so neatly ties together Wayne’s health problems and the trajectory of his music career. Even so, this album has left me scrambling for an explanation: why does every punchline, every synth twitch, every cunnilingus reference hit with a thud that feels so withering, so artificial?
Only one track from I Am Not a Human Being II
is worth remembering, and that is its opener. “IANAHB” is striking primarily for its production, a seemingly unrehearsed piece of grandiose piano that constantly evolves, never really looping. It’s “Queens Get the Money” (2008) on steroids, undeniably ridiculous yet lending lines like “90 billion bitches on my stick like a skewer” (yes: 90 billion
bitches) an operatic power. What “IANAHB” portends for Lil Wayne’s career is unsure, given that its only connective tissue with the rest of the album is Weezy making silly puns about his dick. But there’s something undeniably fresh about it--it’s the single track here that feels like the product of genuine effort. This being a sequel to an album that was rush-released before Lil Wayne was sent to jail, perhaps my expectations were too high. When the exception becomes the rule, however, and each album elicits in me and many others only a sighing “well, maybe next time...
”, the disappointment becomes deafening. This is probably not Wayne’s fault but mine; you can’t expect a rapper who lives so recklessly to maintain any kind of consistent output. Human Being II
nonetheless arrives as a particular kind of letdown--the kind that comes when you realize that someone you admire and respect is, after all, only human.