Lil Wayne, "Tha Carter IV" (Cash Money/Universal Records)
Since "Tha Carter III" made him a legitimate pop star, Lil Wayne spent eight months in jail and released three albums, including a collaborative effort with his Young Money crew.
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He also forgot the art of songwriting.
That 2008, Grammy-winning blockbuster succeeded because the genius of free association rhymes found discipline: Nearly every "Carter III" track had a theme, storyline or single emotion for Wayne to wrap his witticisms around.
"Tha Carter IV" proves an unworthy successor. It piles on metaphors, similes, double-entendres and word-images that work as punch lines but don't cohere. You'll chuckle along to that distinctive raspy voice and then wonder: What was that all about? Missing a golden opportunity to reflect on his time locked up, away from the spotlight, Wayne reveals little. His world is chock-full of words, empty of meaning.
Not that he needs to make a point with every tune. Some of Wayne's best work has been on similarly scattershot mixtapes. And both the album "Intro" and "6 Foot 7 Foot" are thrilling examples of carefully considered but ultimately vacuous wordplay, the latter including Wayne's now-classic pronouncement that "real G's move in silence like lasagna."
But lyrical laziness drags down "How To Hate," "Blunt Blowin" and "Megaman." And does "So Special" really reference Lorena Bobbitt? In 2011? "President Carter," using a sample from Jimmy Carter's inauguration, makes some halfhearted nods at politics but falls back to nonsensical braggadocio: "I'm beneficial, I've been official. I say you rappers sweet, tiramisu."
The New Orleans rapper does find ways to make listeners snap to attention. A sinister beat and cocky chorus from Drake propels "She Will." "Interlude" features punishing verses from Tech N9ne and Andre 3000. And Wayne uses "It's Good" to respond to Jay-Z's recent dismissal of Young Money on "H.A.M." with a threat to kidnap Beyoncé and hold her for ransom. No moving in silence there.
Easily the most prolific top-tier rapper, Wayne has been praised in the past for generously putting out free mixtapes that with online buzz upstaged many of his peers' heavily marketed studio albums. This time it's the opposite: A disappointing high-profile release following his bizarre performance at MTV's Video Music Awards.
There, Wayne showcased two of the album's least-inspired songs: the Auto-Tuned "How To Love," which features a syrupy melody manufactured specifically to win back the many fans of 2008's "Lollipop"; and "John," essentially an expansion of Rick Ross' "I'm Not A Star," the opening track from last year's well-regarded "Teflon Don" album.
Here's hoping the diminutive 28-year-old shows some musical growth on "Tha Carter V."
Check this out: The buzz single "6 Foot 7 Foot" effectively samples Harry Belafonte and, with a rapid-fire verse from Cory Gunz, delivers a head-spinning rush that equals Wayne's 2008 smash "A Milli."