Lil Wayne’s ‘Rebirth’ cut short by mediocre album

Jeremy Lim

For the past three years Lil Wayne has been hip-hop’s undisputed king. In 2008, rap’s best and biggest star was able to move a million units of his magnum opus “Tha Carter III” in its first week of release.

It’s tough to go platinum in under a week in this day and age, what with the advent of file-sharing, downloading and live streaming.  

The fact that Wayne did so underscored his transition from an up-and-coming rapper, well-respected in hip-hop circles, to a bona fide pop star. 

But no pop star is bulletproof, as Wayne’s official follow up “Rebirth” demonstrates. 

When “Rebirth” was initially billed as a rock ‘n’ roll album, people were hardly surprised. 

After all, Wayne has made his name largely through his lack of restraint and disregard for conventional limitations; a New Yorker article once referred to one of his verses as “thirty seconds of uncontrolled id,” and that’s a pretty apt description of his oeuvre as a whole. 

“Rebirth,” then, is less a ham-fisted crossover ploy to sell records to a different demographic than it is an expression of Wayne’s genuine interest in exploring and consuming different types of music.

Unfortunately, it’s also a pretty bad rock record. 

It’s a pastiche of various styles mashed together – emo lyrics grafted onto hard rock guitar riffs with ’80s hair metal and bizarre synthesizers thrown in for good measure.

The confluence of various styles isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, except that here it’s wholly inorganic. 

Rappers genre-hopping is a bit of a trend recently, but this isn’t Kanye’s soul crooning on “808s & Heartbreak” or Andre 3000 trying to play Prince on “The Love Below.”

 This isn’t even Jim Jones rapping over MGMT. 

This sounds like Wayne’s vague conception of what rock music kind of sounds like, based on some Blink-182 and Limp Bizkit songs he might have heard once.

Lead single “Prom Queen” seems to promise something of interest at first, but quickly devolves into a hook-less, tuneless bore of Auto-Tuned wailing and slowly chugging guitars. “Ground Zero” is actually something of a bright spot. 

Produced by Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, it offers the only interesting riff on the record and gives Wayne room to actually attack the beat with intensity and a sense of purpose. 

The only real highlight on the album is the song  “Drop The World,” featuring Eminem. 

Wayne reinforces his proclivity for strange, sometimes nonsensical imagery with lyrics like, “I pick up the world, and I’ma drop it on your head.” 

Meanwhile, Eminem contributes a fiery verse, allowing Wayne to continue his streak of getting his lunch eaten by another rapper on one of his own songs. 

Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about this whole exercise is that it almost totally strips Wayne of everything that made him the best rapper alive. He didn’t become popular because of soul-baring lyrics (like Tupac) or a gaudy, super-villain like persona (like 50 Cent). 

He became popular because he had a natural talent for conveying his bizarre, drug-addled personality while simultaneously treating the English dictionary like his personal playground. 

At his peak, Wayne could phonetically massage words and phrases to fit in free-associative patterns, hopping from wild tangents to bizzare-but-apt metaphors to gut-busting punchlines, all in an effortless, rhythmic cadence.

As an example, “A Milli” has no coherent structure or reason, but everyone knows what you mean when you say something is “tougher than Nigerian hair” or that you “pop ’em like Orville Redenbacher.”

 On “Rebirth,” there is no startlingly vivid imagery or explanatory simile that sounds stupid and crazy but actually kind of make sense.

 Instead Wayne offers needlessly Auto-Tuned warbling, faux-rock screaming that’s more Fred Durst than Roger Daltrey and gems like this one from “On Fire:” “She hot as hell/let’s call her Helen/fireman to her rescue/like 9/11.” 

That’s pretty weak stuff, and even if Wayne can be commended for taking such a bold musical detour, one can only hope he finds the right road and gets back to rapping.