“Bitch, real G’s move in silence like lasagna!”
These words marked the beginning of 2011. Tumbling from the mouth of a newly-freed, utterly unhinged, blacked-out savant incarnation of the man born Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. on an absolutely monstrous advance-single, it was a roar of immortal relevance—something that effortlessly transcended prison bars. The line was perfect for hashtags, pretty much encapsulating the vocab-addict, mesmerizingly idiosyncratic wordplay it seems only Lil Wayne can wield, reminding us exactly what we’ve been missing the last year. “Six Foot Seven Foot” remains the best moment on Tha Carter IV—potentially one of the most anticipated hip-hop LPs of all time. Emerging months after legal troubles, shoddy mixtapes, clearinghouse releases, and one particularly bizarre bum-rock divergence, its reputation precedes any copy you could generate.
With all that clutter the rearview mirror, most of us were looking towards Tha Carter IV as something of resurgence. The long-awaited refocusing of Wayne on his most basic of craft, recapturing the absolute inferno he was leaning towards the middle of the decade. Carter IV is not that record. In fact it pretty much resembles the ho-hum stopgaps that have graced his name ever since the release of the record’s prequel—something you could expect to hear while he was still incarcerated, a cobbling of limited means. The beats seem tired and passed-on, the flows steady and workmanlike, and the songs dug from the recesses of available options. It all comes together as solid, but scattershot—which is something that would probably be a lot more defendable if it was released last year.
Plenty of the tracks are spectacularly decent; “Megaman,” “Blunt Blowin,” “She Will,” and “Its Good” are the exact sort of upright Wayne shtick we should be happy to have back. The jaw-dropping weirdness may be missing, but it’s nice to have a steady flow of songs like this following an extended hiatus. He certainly hasn’t forgotten how to work. But then you run into the acoustic balladry of “How To Love” and its companion, the thoroughly out-of-style “How To Hate” and it’s hard to stay positive. It’d be nice if IV could stand as a strong, if unflashy return to form, but its peculiarly strange sprawl doesn’t really allow for that—it’s got an eccentric repertoire that will probably spur a lot of discourse; it’s a statement of grown-man grumblings not freewheeling lunacy.
Outside of the singles and leaks, the most substantial surprise is “President Carter,” which turns dewy strings and a surprisingly hypnotic cut-up of Jimmy Carter’s inauguration into a slow-burn blitz (complete with Earl Sweatshirt reference!) The other surprises are less tolerable. His pensive sing-song on the delicate “Nightmare on the Bottom” is unflatteringly tranquilized, the aforementioned “How To Love” is like an experiment in an artist’s thorough inability to self-edit, and the two songs with the best verses, the curved-lip Tech N9ne/Andre 3000 duet “Interlude” and the star-studded, would-be posse cut “Outro,” outside of a few hat-tipping references, exist entirely without Wayne’s involvement. For an album with his name on it, that seems exceedingly bizarre, and I doubt even the performers involved have an artistic reasoning for his absence.
It’s quite hard to get a grasp on Tha Carter IV; in its relentlessly schizophrenic assault, you might end up falling in-and-out of love several times. It just doesn’t feel like the homecoming it probably should be—conceptually, Wayne in jail was something deserving of a sound-barrier breaking reentrance. But in his proper arrival, he truly sounds like a different man: More tempered, less hungry, equipped with a sense of maturity, of furrowed thoughtfulness that wasn’t part of his character before. It almost seems silly wishing it was a better record, and I’m sure he does have better records in him, but I don’t think they’ll be coming from the same iteration that made him famous. He just isn’t that guy anymore. That deserves some mourning, but with his mind the future will be anything but boring.