Lil Wayne Keeps Chasing His Glory Days On Tha Carter IV

Lil Wayne, "How To Love"/"John" (live at the 2011 Video Music Awards)

I'm most interested in the aspects of C4 that are almost tangential to the music. It's a composition of a lot of rapping styles Wayne's dabbled in and production styles that have been bubbling in rap for some time, except little of it clicks. C4 doesn't sound avant-garde, or even au courant; largely, it's curiously stuck in a past where Wayne's jacking for beats made for compelling mixtapes despite the absence of anything nearing the effervescence of those lyrics. This is the mixtape Weezy approach without the mixtape Weezy's execution, and it makes for an album that is dotted with reminders of better days.

For example: the hookless "MegaMan" sounds like a combination of 2007's "Ransom" and "I'm Goin' In" from Drake's 2009 So Far Gone EP; friend zone anthem "How To Hate" ("a bitch" completes the phrase, both predictably and lamentably) recalls the swirling production of the Wayne-featuring "Maybach Music 2." "Abortion" is a reworking of a track that originally leaked after the release of The Alchemist's Chemical Warfare in 2009. "President Carter"—on which Wayne samples Jimmy Carter's inauguration and invites any scholars of both hip-hop and the Presidency to connect the "malaise" dots—is a bulked-up version of "Outstanding", around since 2008. Between those four songs and the three singles that have been out for months each—"6 Foot 7 Foot," itself explicitly framed as "'A Milli' on steroids"; Lex Luger-meets-unconvincing alien invasion track "John"; catchy Jason Mraz-biting confection "How To Love"—there's a lot of music on C4 that has either infested radio listeners' ears for a while or emerged a while ago through ancient New Music Cartel posts.

That recycling is somehow not the album's biggest head-scratcher: that's the inexplicably split up "Intro"/"Interlude"/"Outro" trio. The instrumental is the album's best beat, with fat horns and explosive bass and drums. Reconstituted as a lyrical showcase that brings "Interlude" duo Tech N9ne and Andre 3000 together with "Outro" trio Bun B, Nas, and Busta Rhymes and Wayne ("Outro" interloper Shyne, who does the world's worst impression pre-prison Shyne doing his Biggie impression, gets cut), it's one of the finest rap songs of 2011. Split, it's a guarantee that the two best tracks on C4 are songs Lil Wayne does not appear on.

I can understand the decision. Though Wayne drops "Life's a crazy bitch, Grace Jones," the best of both the too many hashtagged bars and the too-many Zen koans beginning with "Life is" on C4, in his nearly three minutes on the track, he's naught but an afterthought on the combined track, where even a detail as minute as the way 3000 rhymes "borrowed," "pharoah," and "Cairo" blows Weezy away. When I listen to it, I rap along with Tech, nod to Bun, and can't help but get excited that Nas and Andre might drop long-gestating solo albums in the future. That's probably not quite the reaction Wayne wanted listeners to have to Tha Carter IV.

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