Review Summary: Tha Carter IV takes all of Wayne's divergent paths– established rapper, vital pop star, failed rock star– and juxtaposes all of them on one album.
Of all of Lil Wayne's series– Dedication
, Da Drought
, his word associations The Prefix
and The Suffix
– only Tha Carter
has made it to a fourth installment. That speaks to Wayne's shapeshifting nature and his remarkable ability to be omnipresent and ever-adapting, a fixture in the hip-hop and pop world at all times, even when he's in jail. Obviously, his 2010 verses and songs were recorded before he went in, but even through eight months of imprisonment, there was no ending to the rush of Lil Wayne material that the pop world has both enjoyed and suffered through.
Of course, this blitz began in 2005, when Wayne released a seemingly endless series of mixtapes for about two years, peaking at the end with Dedication 2
and Da Drought 3
. That series of mixtapes established Wayne as the dominant force in commercial hip-hop in the mid 2000s, so it was only natural that his calling card would get passed around to more and more pop artists. So Wayne collaborated, opened his mind to music beyond rap, and went down more paths. He started using Auto-Tune more extensively. Rebirth happened. And now, just as Tha Carter III
consolidated all of Wayne's growth during his mixtape frenzy, Tha Carter IV
takes all of Wayne's divergent paths– established rapper, vital pop star, failed rock star– and juxtaposes all of them on one album.
The result is, obviously, a mixed bag. Wayne succeeds where you expect him to, in the straight rap tracks that line the album's first four tracks from "Intro" to "6 Foot 7 Foot". The poppier tracks that still lean towards hip-hop– "She Will" and "So Special"– are nothing special, but passable and certainly chartable. The "experiments" fail miserably, from the Auto-Tuned, guitar-strumming crooner "How to Love" to the weird, swung, choir-sampling soul thing "Abortion", a track that finds Wayne completely out of his element even as a rapper. It's a shame, because "Abortion"'s production is actually great; it was just made for the wrong rapper.
Despite Wayne indulging all his musical urges to extremely varying success, his biggest enemy isn't even himself here. It's how many people outdo him on the record, especially in "Interlude" and "Outro". These are strange tracks; Wayne has nothing to do with them. He doesn't rap on them or produce them; he just flexes his muscle to get some of the biggest names in rap to appear for a verse, many of them making some of their first appearances in years. Tech N9ne and André 3000 appear on "Interlude" and turn in two of the best verses on the entire album. A revitalized Nas appears on the "Outro" ("Your fate is sealed, no Heidi Klum") alongside Shyne, who should have stayed retired. The energy on these tracks beats almost anything that Wayne appears on. Their separation is made more perplexing by the fact that they're both the same beat as Wayne's "Intro", so why didn't he just take the four or five best verses and make one big posse cut? They're
all excited to be on a Lil Wayne track, so why isn't Weezy?
Even on some of the album's better tracks, Wayne is just riding the current. On "President Carter", which features a great sample from Jimmy Carter's inauguration, Wayne borrows from the infamous Earl Sweatshirt line when he says, "I put the ass in assassin/smoke lt like a blunt, then it's ashes to ashes." Later, on his Jay-Z diss track "It's Good", his fantastical threat feels Oddly Futurian: "Talkin' bout baby money? I got your baby money/ Kidnap your bitch, get that 'how much you love your lady' money." The album's best Wayne song, early single "6 Foot 7 Foot", is nothing more than a good rehash of "A Milli"– same producer, same punishing track and flow. Still, it's the style that Wayne has always done best. Despite his willingness to adapt to rising fads like Auto-Tune to stay relevant, Wayne will always be best on well-produced, pure rap tracks. There just aren't enough of those on Carter IV
Without all the bombast that the best Wayne tracks often show, it makes his inevitable lyrical miscues more difficult to forgive. "Abortion" is full of them. "I woke up this morning, dick rock hard." "And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air/ Life is a rollercoaster, but still unfair." "But I just built a house on I Don't Give a *** Avenue." The swung feel of the song hardly suits Wayne, whose flow seems broken and tired on the track.
These are the blunders we have come to expect from Wayne, but we expect to be compensated for our time with some classic tracks, and on Carter IV
, there are none. The rapper who "doesn't write *** 'cause [he] ain't got time" needs to start making time before he runs out of verses. At this point, Wayne has become so predictable that his biggest surprise on Carter IV
is that there are two tracks without him. On "Nightmares of the Bottom", he laments, "I'm looking in my rearview mirror, I see the world in it/ I try to slow down and I get rear-ended," but slowing down may be just what Wayne needs.