It’s going to prove hard to hold Lil Wayne up as one of the best rappers of all times in five or ten years from now. We all know his tendency to hop on a track and explode in a fury of free associations and punchlines while sounding like a gremlin on helium, but he also has a habit of showing his best work on guest spots and mixtape appearances. When put up against the catalogs of the other four or five cats who are generally tossed around as being G.O.A.T (Jay, Big, Pac, Nas etc) Wayne hasn’t yet produced an album to hold up against the Reasonable Doubts and Life After Deaths of the other dudes. The hope amongst Wayne fans was that Tha Carter IV would be the album to change that.
Tha Carter IV‘s production doesn’t lend itself to this being a classic album. It mostly consists of the same heavy 808 and synths style that Wayne has favored for years now but, with few exceptions there’s few tracks that really jump out at you as having immediate replay value. “John” and “6 Foot 7” are monsterous bangers that interpolate and improve on the Lex Luger style and Bangladesh’s “A Milli” template respectively. “Nightmares of the Bottom” is a cool down tempo jam that replicates the wave Wayne was riding when he made “Single” off of No Ceilings while “How To Hate” kinda makes you wish Wayne and T-Pain would’ve gotten around to making that T-Wayne album of autotuned robot love songs. A joint like “She Will” is a pretty cool impression of a Drake song, recreating the dark r&b ambience that ya boy Drakkar Noir favors but, it doesn’t hit as hard as previous Wayne/Drake collabos like “Tell Me”. Taking a look over the album credits the thing that stands out is a lack of big name producers. Although Polow Da Don and Bangladesh show up for “John” and “6 Foot 7” respectively most of the other producers are unknowns. This might be why songs don’t really hit as hard as you’d want them to, there’s a unquantifiable difference between the real thing and high level imitations – ask dudes who hang out in strip clubs a lot.
As a great lyricist Wayne has been able to transform generic beats into something special on more than a couple occasions. On Carter IV he has a couple of spots where he hits the same manic energy he had circa the ’06 mixtape era. He hits points where his clipped metaphors and double entendres rearrange familiar words and situations to pull surreal images out of the ordinary. “She Will” has Wayne telling us “I like my girl thick, not just kinda fine/ Eat her till she cry, call that wine and dine”. But for every line of that level theres a song that has a line that come off as sounding like someone making fun of Wayne. “How To Hate” is a dope, love-gone-wrong song but with a line like “I don’t love them hoes, but don’t fuck up with Wayne cause when it Waynes it pours” at the beginning some cats might turn the joint off right there.
His usage of clipped metaphors-a staple of his recent output-is a perfect example of the difference in writing. When Wayne is on for tracks like “John” he drops couplets like “Big B’s. Red Sox/ I get money to kill time. Dead clocks” which draws in a tangle of gang affiliations, sports references and personification of abstract concept. All in twelve words. When he’s off though he drops metaphors like “Man f*ck them bitches and them hoes. And them n*ggas pussy. Camel toes” which doesn’t do anything but connect pussy to camel toes like lycra spandex.
As of being out a week Carter IV has moved a million units, which is completely insane in 2011. Some of that has to be momentum from Tha Carer 3, some of that has to be built off of the power of the lead singles (which are the best songs on the album). A greater contributor to the sales would have to be the overall image Wayne has of being an omnipresent genius artist. Even though he does wild features any iteration of Tha Carter is an event, a conversation you want to be a part of. It’s still to be seen however if the actual music will be strong enough to sustain discussion 6 months from now or 10 years from now and that’s the measure of a classic.
The album isn’t a classic. It doesn’t feel like it showcases Wayne at his strongest over the entire run time. Songs like “Blunt Blowin” and “President Carter” aren’t bad per se but knowing what Wayne can accomplish they’re kind of middle of the road instead of the totally unique works that no other rapper could come up with. No one’s putting either of those tracks on their “Best of Weezy” playlist. Tha Carter IV will definitely take you into the beginning of fall as a nice album to bump in the ride while you can still have the windows down but it’s not the definitive Weezy album Stans were waiting for to end any doubt about who’s the greatest rapper alive.