Three years ago, Lil Wayne was just an incredible talent. He livened up high-profile tracks from Outkast and Devin the Dude, and he made the cover of Complex, but otherwise the rapper’s star power was as slight as his 5’6” frame. Three years later, Dwayne Carter is a walking, tattoo-coated, sizzurp-addicted personification of the term ubiquitous. Whether it’s his own full-length documentary or VH1 Top 20 Countdown, Wayne has strummed up an unfathomable amount of publicity, inadvertently becoming the oddest hip-hop icon since Stankonia.
But at what price? On 2008’s Tha Carter III, Weezy substantiated all of his eye-rolling egotism with jubilant flows and WTF wordplay, but the ensuing months have seen an influx of lackluster verses. A lot of great ones, too, but that brilliance is continuously undermined by drug-induced streakiness. Meanwhile, the all-important blogosphere has shifted its attention toward G Side and Freddie Gibbs and whatever “jerking” is. Fame blows.
“A gangsta need love,” Wayne gushes over the flickering synths of “Gooder.” Much has been said about his infatuation with gun and gang culture -- reports of Wayne working on a Blood Brothers mixtape with West Coast caricature the Game even surfaced a few years ago -- but the New Orleans Nightmare is far from Suge Knight; he’s more like Phil Spector, a tiny quirkster and unlikely participant in violence. (Spector is currently serving a 19-year prison sentence for murder, while Wayne pled guilty to attempted gun possession and will start his own sentence in February.) His offbeat interpretations of tough-guy hip-hop clichés often make for great listening, but on We Are Young Money, Weezy decides that he can’t be bothered to display such originality. Instead, he sings lethargically through Auto-Tuner, all while the members of his Young Money clique try and fail to emulate Wayne’s gruff, comedic brand of MCing.
Not all of these guys suck. Drake has never met a hook that he can’t croon with effortless, seductive professionalism, and his rapping similarly overflows with charm. But Nicki Minjai, although stunningly well-endowed, has the most obnoxiously manic delivery in rap. Shanell bears a strong resemblance to Keri Hilson and has a probable chance at obtaining pop stardom, but that doesn’t make her vocals on “Play In My Band” any less indistinguishably generic. The rest of these guys -- Harlem-born Jae Millz, Gudda Gudda, and Mack Maine (the latter of whom was last seen wearing thick-rimmed Kanye glasses on an episode of Behind the Music) -- are numbingly unexciting, drained entirely of the giggly, Wayne-like charisma that they try so hard to duplicate. Raspy cadences? Punch lines about Vanna White, Brett Favre, and toilets? Cool. Even the most promising young MC here, Tyga, is reduced to quoting Soulja Boy on the slow, harrowing “Wife Beater.”
Those of you who hope to hear Wayne evoke the energy of his recent verse on Gucci Mane’s “Stupid Wild” or “Swag Surfin’” freestyle from last October’s No Ceilings are in for a disheartening surprise. On “Ms. Parker,” he ruins Tha Bizness’s earthy beat with incoherent, vocoder-drenched groaning. On “She Is Gone,” he shouts the following inexcusable refrain: “Where my old lady at? I’ma kill that bitch!” Even on “Every Girl,” the airy single that single-handedly made 106 & Park much more pleasant last summer, the only remotely memorable line is this: “I’ll fuck the whole group, baby, I’m a groupie.” Taken as a whole, We Are Young Money stands as the most repellant slab of commercial rap since Fat Joe’s J.O.S.E. 2. A far cry from three years ago.