As an album featuring a conflated, confused ego and bearing a title that manages to simultaneously both the marvels and the limitations of its performances, Lil Wayne’s I Am Not a Human Being reminds me a lot of Nas’s 2000 disc, God’s Son. On the latter album, Nas responded to the Jay-Z beef and his mother’s death with a set of songs that employed religion to ends both indulgent (“The Cross”) and profound (“Warrior’s Song”). Never was Nas’s prophesizing of himself as spiritual scion more annoying, and never was it more compelling.
In a similar statement of puzzling bravado, Lil’ Wayne has gone from Tha Carter III, an album titled after his familial origins — his last name — to an album whose title repudiates his human legacy altogether. Sorry, New Orleans, the first lines of I Am Not a Human Being give a shout out not to the neighborhood where he grew up but to “all his moon men.” Lil Wayne’s rapping voice has evolved from a hoarse, Southern-accented snarl to a puny, goblin’s chirp. His most frequent accomplice is no longer Birdman, the New Orleans label founder who practically raised Wayne, but the Canadian cross-genre crooner Drake. Even though Lil’ Wayne has been trying to tell us for the past few years that we are not the same, that he is a Martian, only now has the boast been fully realized.
The album opens with “Gonorrhea,” a manic shoot-em-up featuring Drake and a sort of spacey, synthy production that should sound new to no one. Although Drake’s verse is mostly a throwaway (he later redeems himself on “Right Above It”), Lil Wayne is about 85 percent brilliant, on-par with what he was doing on his most recent mixtape, No Ceilings. Of course there’s no overarching strategy or theme to the lyrics. The parade of insults soars past and you can decide how much you like them. So I give the thumbs-down to yawners like “Bitch, I’m in the building; you in the front yard,” but am pretty impressed by “I’ll let my goons rush ya like Moscow.” Songs trafficking in the same genre of ecstatic chest-thumping such as “Bill Gates” and “Hold Up” succeed by the moment and on the strength of how much their beats knock.
For most of I Am Not a Human Being, it seems like Wayne has forgotten how to write a verse. He’s all about couplets now. And the only conceit he’s capable of carrying is the one about fucking. He’s obviously learned this from Drake, but he’s learned it well. “With You” has a weepy soul sample and Wayne applying his tongue completely to the contours of his lover’s body. The mid-point in the chorus, where Drake takes the reigns from Wayne, is surprising and pleasurable. “I’m Single,” produced by Drake hand Noah “40” Shebib and sounding like an outtake from So Far Gone, is not as exciting as “With You” but succeeds for the same simple reason: Wayne is forced to focus for a whole song.
For a reminder of what Wayne used to be able to achieve regularly, check out “That Ain’t Me.” It features the kind of furious, lyrically intricate work that made Wayne’s name back in 2006/07. Rhymes last for entire verses, images repeat themselves in surprising ways, references to ’90s television (Saved by the Bell) and video games (Mortal Kombat) show up, and there is a moment of trenchant social criticism; Wayne observes that even before Katrina, his city “was a living cesspool.” What’s odd about the song is how much it differs from the rest of I Am Not Human Being’s untopical hedonism. It’s also the only song that mentions the prison sentence Wayne has been serving for the past six months.
In the perpetual-two-a.m., limousine-interior of Lil Wayne’s world, the sun is permanently passed out and the only light comes from the king’s diamond-encrusted mouth. Everyone here is trying to enjoy himself, or else thinking up ridiculous stunts in order to stay awake. Sex can’t just be sex; it has to be stranger than a porn star’s nightmare. Violence works under similar cartoon constraints, since it’s drawn not from real life but from video games. The Lil Wayne who could make masterpieces out of autobiography (The Drought Is Over’s “La La La”), self-reflection (The Leak’s “I’m Me”) and metaphor (Tha Carter III’s “Dr. Carter”) seems to be on temporary retirement. On “Gonorrhea” Wayne raps that “It’s a crazy world, so I stay in mine.” To which I would respond as such: OK, have fun in there, Wayne, wherever you are. But when you want to return to humanity, we’ll be ready for you.