[Young Money; 2011]

What should we make of Lil Wayne in 2011? He’s not the same artist that released Rebirth last year, and certainly not the phenomenon that overtook the music industry in 2008. The truth, for those willing to see it, isn’t a pleasant one. He’s reached that incredibly awkward point in his career that so many MCs are doomed to see: the comedown. Not nearly the artist he was when he caught all the attention, Weezy is writhing in his death throes, all across the charts. Wayne fans are quick to point out his array of popular singles and guest spots, but doesn’t 50 Cent still chart? The radio understands about as much in regards to genuine popularity as the guy who green lit that Terminator movie with Christian Bale. When an artist makes as much of a fuss as a guy like Wayne, he guarantees himself a certain amount of forgiveness, a comfortable longevity, ensured up to a year.

With Rebirth and I Am Not a Human Being Wayne began using up his platinum plaques, slowly depleting the fanbase that moved over a million copies of Tha Carter III in its first week. That was one hell of an accomplishment, one that led a whole bunch of titles to be heaped on an artist who would have seemed at the start of a promising career. Yet, he wasn’t at the start. III was his sixth album, and his first to push big numbers. By brilliance of persona, perfectly blessed timing, and an ounce of luck, Lil Wayne had somehow simply stepped into superstardom.

It makes him a very interesting case: artists like Eminem and Kanye West blew a crater into the game with their entrance, competing with their own records throughout their careers. On the dawn of the mania that came from Tha Carter III Wayne was standing atop, arguably, a decent record, a great one (that’d be C2, folks), and three turds. He had almost nowhere to go but up. No flawless Marshall Mathers LP to tarnish with an Encore. How little we knew.

Two terrible albums and a jail sentence later, Wayne’s career is in question, overshadowed by his own Canadian soap opera of an apprentice. So what is it with Weezy? Perhaps the sudden weight of superstardom was too much, but whatever the reason, on Carter IV he is reduced to playing showtunes versions of himself. If you’re a fan, incensed at these words, stop and think of ol’ ‘Weezy F. Baby.’ Now ask yourself how many things that “F” has stood for. Apparently he’s still unsettled; on “Nightmares of the Bottom” – alone – it takes on four different meanings.

To peer into the details of any given track would only worsen the score: you get a bad John Mayer forgery of a single (“How To Love”), beats that shouldn’t have made Sorry 4 the Wait, and a halfhearted, attention-seeking diss track (“It’s Good”). As for what came before, it’s truly Carter II that stands atop the series as the best entry, but it was the third chapter on which Wayne reached his most delirious highs. The mixed bag was topped by production extravaganza such as “Let the Beat Build,” which no material here begins to reach. The best tracks on IV are tired afterthoughts: half of them stunted attempts at recapturing “A Milli” while personal tracks fall feebly short of “Playin’ with Fire.” Even “President Carter” is a sleepily reimagined “Bill Gates” – and that was off Human Being. We won’t even bother going through the litany of flubbed lines; this critic has, quite literally, three pages of them in his notebook. That wouldn’t be a review, it’d be a punishment.

Yet, punishment is about what Weezy deserves. The act is up: Lil Wayne is weird. He’s a Martian, gets in skateboarding accidents and disses and befriends Jay-Z at his convenience. The people get it by now. Either they’re bored, or Wayne is. Whatever the reason, Wayne is so tired throughout this album that he often hardly bothers to string together words that have any cleverness or sense whatsoever. He lifts lines from Odd Future and, frequently, himself. It’s inevitable: an artist begins to mimic the incarnation of themselves that brings the most success when they grow comfortable (someone phone the irony in to Babyface), but Lil Wayne seems to have taken a crash course. Perhaps he was never meant for the level of importance he attained, but something has certainly taken it out of our little Martian.

He doesn’t even bother to appear on the tracks with his most able guests, avoiding the “Interlude” (with Tech N9Ne and Andre 3000) and “Outro” (Bun B, Nas, Shyne and Busta Rhymes) completely. It’s as if Wayne knew his meal was too undercooked to present alongside real chefs. He struggled to find a single with legs: we’ve heard four since December, all of which still appear here. Typically, singles so long exposed are left behind in favor of newer material, it seems poor Weezy struggled to find much of anything worth putting on his album. This coming from an MC who typically records so much material that it seeps out with relative constancy. No less, the single that finally sold entirely hinges around a Drake hook. This says plenty for Weezy’s labelmate, but nothing for himself. This guy did a milli in a week, and now he’s relying on his friends to get a hit?

It’s all these things that make this album so damn sad. Last year’s disappointments were only blips on the radar. This, this, is Tha Carter IV: the next installment in the series that brought Wayne to both fame and acclaim. Fans are quick to point it out as superior to Rebirth and Human Being – and it is – but isn’t that in itself sad? Did the positive response to American Gangster rely upon holding it over Kingdom Come? Of course not; they focused on its merits. With Tha Carter IV, that’s impossible. The best that can possibly be said for it is ‘barely better than,’ perhaps ‘inoffensive’ and ‘bland.’ And, from an MC that would call himself King, shouldn’t we all have hoped – nay, expected – well, better?