[4 February 2007]
In the impoverished Hollygrove district of New Orleans, circa 1993, a hungry and aspiring 11-year-old rapper by the name of Dwayne Carter met Brian “Baby” Williams—AKA Birdman—the perpetually scowling mogul at the helm of Cash Money Records. The young Carter impressed the entrepreneur with writing and rapping skills well beyond his years. At first Williams balked at signing a performer so young to his label. However, Carter’s persistence, in the form of frequent visits to Cash Money headquarters and leaving messages spinning even more rhymes on Williams’ answering machine, eventually paid off.
In what sounds like an urban Cinderella story, Birdman soon signed the pre-teen, who then took on the moniker Lil Wayne. Even more astoundingly—stepping up to the plate for Carter’s own absentee father—Birdman took the 12-year-old under his proverbial wing, adopting Lil Wayne as his own son.
By the time he was 13, Lil Wayne was recording albums and tackling subjects of a more adult nature than those of his more pop-friendly peers, Lil Bow Wow and Lil Romeo. He went on to become a member of rap supergroup the Hot Boys, an outfit that also launched the career of Juvenile. During his tenure with the Hot Boys, in addition to his burgeoning solo career, Lil Wayne made a habit of inserting “drop it like it’s hot” into songs long before Snoop made it a household phrase.
Fast forward to the present: Like Father, Like Son combines the talents of rapper Lil Wayne and his adoptive father, sometimes-rapper and constant-capitalist Birdman. Don’t expect, however, to hear a male, hip-hop version of that wedding reception staple, “Butterfly Kisses” on this joint venture. The resulting collaboration isn’t nearly as heartwarming as it initially sounds.
Even though the album is a collaborative effort, Lil Wayne still takes center stage, which is a testament to Birdman’s business savvy. Known more for his business acumen, flashy style, clothing and sneaker endorsements than his music, Birdman’s spots and rhymes on the album are nowhere near as good as those of his protégé.
Having listened to Lil Wayne and enjoyed his work from back in his Hot Boys days, I really wanted to like this album. As with any collaboration, Like Father, Like Son poses an odd conundrum. The best of the songs have a catchy danceability and allow for repeated spins of the disc. However, it’s hard to get much worse than the worst of the tracks on this effort. In addition to kicking out every hip-hop lyrical cliché, the beats become repetitive, swinging back and forth like a blinged-out pendulum that tarnishes after its first wear.
Like Father, Like Son kicks off with a lengthy Mafioso-themed introduction entitled “Loyalty”, featuring a Tony Soprano-soundalike. Several interludes throughout the album repeat the same tired themes that have become redundant within the genre. If all the Benz-driving rappers who name-checked Scarface and The Godfather in their songs had to pay royalties per mention, their sizeable cash flow would soon be diminished.
Things take a turn for the better while also continuing with the family theme on “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy”. A nod to Birdman’s single, “#1 Stunna,” Lil Wayne and his adopted Pop expound on the good life.
The topic of material gains makes another appearance on “Don’t Die”—an almost ballad-like number, with a slow, pensive tempo, that contemplates the tragedy of being banned from Wet Willie’s (it’s a bar, a party, an institution). The fairy tale motif continues as Lil Wayne and company rap about an Avalon-like isle in Florida, informing us all that “Gangstas don’t die, / They get chubby and they move to Miami”. An interesting concept lyrically, the overly-mellow vocals drag the mood—and subsequently the track—down.
As the album progresses, Birdman and Lil Wayne add some auditory soul food to the disc on several tracks. “1st Key” is funk-flavored with horns and bowmp-chicka-bowmp guitar riffs straight out of a ‘70s blaxploitation flick soundtrack. The vintage flavoring extends to “Army Gunz”, kicking in with a Hammond organ and a chorus of girls singing “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” It’s a little cheesy, but will have you grinding in your chair at the same time.
More catchy choruses show up on “Ain’t Worried ‘Bout Shit”. Sure, Lil Wayne and Birdman take patting themselves on the back to the extreme, however it’s impossible not to bob your head and enjoy the track from beginning to end. Easily one of the album’s best songs, “Know What I’m Doin’” features a bright, punchy and melodic chorus sung by T-Pain. This song is so good, I would go so far as to say it could redeem the whole album.