[26 March 2013]
Nothing peaks interest in an artist like their untimely demise, and while reports of Lil Wayne receiving the last rites at a Los Angeles hospital recently may have been greatly exaggerated, his bouts of ill health and supposed drug addiction have ratcheted up some short-term interest in the now 30 year old rapper. As if on cue, the release of I Am Not a Human Being II offers Weezy a chance to wash away some of the murky headlines that have attached themselves to his brand of late, as well as the opportunity to rediscover the kind of form that propelled him to the level of fame that tends to attract such attention.
I refer, of course, to Wayne’s now legendary run between and including the release of 2005’s Tha Carter II and 2008’s Tha Carter III; when the MC proclaimed himself to be “the best rapper alive” and, for many, achieved that recognition by relentlessly murdering every beat in his path, as exemplified expertly on mixtape classics Dedication 2 and Da Drought 3. Wayne will always be held to these standards – that two and a half year stretch when his rapping was, well, beyond human. And so the irony of his 2010 record I Am Not a Human Being was that for the first time in years, Lil Wayne the rapper did indeed appear human after all. It was rushed release of scattered tracks assembled to get a product out while its author served a ten month stint in prison; an ugly stepchild to his, at that time, acclaimed Tha Carter series. Coupled with the fact that Wayne has gone on record grumbling about his lack of interest in rapping these days and the evidence that supports that – from his absurd rock album Rebirth and the general lethargy that has crept into his rhymes ever since – I Am Not a Human Being II might be a damning answer to the question many fans have been asking: How much does he have left?
For those hoping for an impassioned response to recent criticism (including the lukewarm reception of his last album Tha Carter IV), there was little evidence that I Am Not a Human Being II was going to be a success even before its release. In an MTV interview Wayne revealed that some tracks here are toss-offs from other recording sessions and repeatedly downplayed the album’s importance when compared to the eventual release of Tha Carter V, which he claims will be his final record. These are hardly statements to get the blood pumping. Yet despite the scattered nature on its creation, Wayne has never stayed so on topic over so many tracks before. Sex is on his mind. Almost every song addresses sex, often in the most lurid ways he can envisage, and there is some enjoyment to be derived from some of the more staggering similes, like “My tongue is an uzi, my dick is an AK / My tongue go ‘brrrrrr’, my dick go ‘POW!’” on “Wowzers” or “She swallow so many nuts, you fuck around, find a squirrel in her throat,” on “Days and Days”.
These and plenty other bars like them are enough to make I Am Not a Human Being II a grin-inducing listen, but the sluggishness in Wayne’s voice has carried through from previous efforts. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a full length Wayne effort that contains so few extraordinary rapping moments. Even on opener “IANAHB”, which features Weezy rapping over a whirlwind piano solo – the track’s sparse nature and chorus-less structure offering him an opportunity to deliver some punchy lyrics and startling flows – Wayne sounds sleepy. Take a line like “I’m in the ocean getting shark pussy.” Then consider the twisted imagery painted on Da Drought 3‘s “The Sky is the Limit”: “I’m probably in the sky, flying with the fishes / Or maybe in the ocean, swimming with the pigeons, see my world is different.” Back in 2007, Wayne was not a human being. Here, too many of his lyrics sound like lukewarm reheats.
In that same MTV interview the Young Money CEO revealed the limited use of his famous employees on this record, stating he’d rather they didn’t get sidetracked from the making of their own records and, in any event, he’d prefer to hold their presence back for Tha Carter V. Guest spots from a variety of other artists do come around often however. The eternally average 2 Chains appears on two tracks. Gunplay upstages Wayne on “Beat The Shit”, a subpar Waka Flocka Flame-esqe banger, while Soulja Boy does a bizarre slow motion flow on “Trigger Finger” that’s just plain head-scratching. Cash Money/Young Money cohort Nicki Minaj does make an appearance, albeit on the annoyingly squeaky Diplo-produced bonus track “Lay it Down”. But the limited use of Drake in particular is a disappointment. The Young Money superstar has tended to coax the best out of Weezy in recent years, but his present is limited to softly mumbling part of the hook on single “Bitches Love Me”. The track actually proves a decent highlight. A frothy piece of Young Money pop rap, a spooky synth links it to Wayne’s highest charting hit “Lollipop”.
On “Bitches Love Me” producer Mike Will Made It at least gives Wayne something to work with. Elsewhere there is little to get excited about production wise. Most beats come in the same mould; cheap, grating electronica, matching up with the frequent use of autotune dotted throughout. There is also the occasional Rebirth throwbacks with loud, crashing guitars and live drums forming some kind of instrumentation. “A Milli” and “6 Foot 7 Foot” producer Bangladesh is absent and certainly missed, but of the various beatmakers present, including seasoned pros like Cool & Dre, Juicy J and Crazy Mike, only Mike Will Made It and T-Minus and Nikhil S. excel. The latter duo’s lean, creeping funk beat on “Rich As Fuck” inspire Wayne to one of his sharpest flows on the album.
In terms of production, Wayne needs to lead from the front on this. In the end the dispensable beats just mirror his own boredom with the project. I Am Not a Human Being II is a poor effort for sure, but more startling might be the fact that it’s over five years now since Wayne was anything near his peak and he shows no signs of reversing the slump. There’s a line on the single “No Worries” where Wayne skewers his voice to a noisy shriek. It’s not a technique that’s uncommon to him, but what is uncommon is the shear lack of sincerity in his voice. It’s like he can’t even feign interest. The hunger is gone, that’s for sure, and when you’ve reached the zenith of hip-hop stardom that Wayne so desperately fought for, regaining that part of yourself is not straight forward. Then again, it only took watching a movie to shake Jay-Z out of a mid-career downturn to cut American Gangster. So perhaps a mild hit to the machine can break Lil Wayne’s lassitude.