The Rough Beast Slouches Toward Bethlehem
He really IS the best rapper alive, at least when he tries. This is proven here on track seven, conveniently titled “Best Rapper Alive”. Over an Iron Maiden sample, Lil’ Wayne gets gully-low, surrealistic, funny, and angry without even breaking a sweat. He flows by not-flowing, by cutting himself off after a half-line or skipping ahead to the next thought shooting around his cranium. Nostalgic for his drowned New Orleans, his weary old-man-in-a-young-body delivery is full of the blues—but there is punk rock and emo and arena rock and jazz here too. Dig the internal rhyme and the thematic underpinnings of what sounds like a freestyle but must really be the result of meticulous planning: “The quarterback / Well protected from the Warren Sapp / The young heart attack / I spit that cardiac / You can’t see me, baby boy, you got that cataracts / I’m right here, straight out the hood, just like an alley cat / Since everyone’s a king, well, where the fuck your palace at / Me, I got callus on my hands, I can handle that.” At the end, he apologizes for swearing.
There is a lot of verbal superiority on this album, and not a lot of filler for an 80-minute, 22-track display. “Fireman” has had a huge impact on the charts already, with the sirens on the hook (courtesy of Doe Boys) and bizarre murky lyrics, but there are a gang of songs waiting to explode. He just tore up “Shooter” on The Tonight Show, rhyming carefully and nimbly over Thicke’s original tune from a couple years ago, so that’s gonna pop big-time. “Weezy Baby” rides slowly, while Wayne compares other rappers to bubble gum and Howard the Duck, while “Lock and Load” reminds everyone that if you hate on Weezy, well, they hated Jesus too.
I could fill up the whole review just quoting Lil’ Wayne’s lyrics (especially since the producers here are mostly no-namers who do their jobs well but not spectacularly), but I won’t. You either dig hip-hop lyrics, in which case you have already heard all this, or you don’t, in which case you’re not reading this, or you’re curious about Wayne in particular, in which case, y’know, you had better hear this record, because it’s going to be around for a long time.
But I’d rather explain why all this verbal dexterity and pinpoint rhyming doesn’t mean more than it does. No, it’s not because Wayne uses murder and gun metaphors, or because he talks about drug-selling. And no, it’s not because these songs are aiming for radio play and accomplish their goal—I appreciate how focused and professional and businesslike it all is. (Lil’ Wayne is now the president of Cash Money Records, and is trying to bring it back from scandal and ill repute, so he’s got a LOT of money on his mind.)
But you can be focused and professional without losing your sense of fun. Anarchy and craziness have always leavened the best hip-hop, a genre which can disappear up its own butt from overseriousness. Missy Elliott spent her album this year proving this, and Wayne himself was featured prominently—and to hilarious effect—on The Mind of Mannie Fresh, breaking into the studio gangster-style and cracking wise.
But that Weezy is nowhere to be found here. The one here is ALL seriousness, his off-the-cuff mutterings continually steered down the gothick path. His words are amazing (“Weezy F. Baby, and the F is for FEMA” has been quoted by many other critics, but they were all right to do so), but they end up all meaning the same thing: I am the Best Rapper Alive, and that’s all I have to say.