Rapper extraordinaire Lil Wayne dropped his newest offering, “Rebirth,” on Feb. 2, just one week before beginning his 12−month jail sentence at Rikers Island in New York City for weapons possession. The album, Wayne’s foray into the rock genre, takes major risks by moving away from the traditional formulas of rap but lacks the energy, creativity and raw passion that made him a staple of the modern music industry.
“Rebirth” is not an album that will provide Lil Wayne with the staying power needed for his career to survive during his absence from the music scene the way that “Paper Trail” (2008) solidified T.I.’s place among the prominent rappers of the decade while he served his time for the same offense. Weezy’s newest installment will, however, force future rappers to push the boundaries of the hip−hop industry.
Wayne’s career has spiraled rapidly upward, most recently with his massively popular and critically acclaimed album “Tha Carter III” (2008). Due to Wayne’s movement into rock, there is no continuity between “Tha Carter III” and “Rebirth.” In “Rebirth,” the rapper who is usually fresh and full of signature witticisms struggles to define his versatility as an artist. Rather than bringing his own style and interpretation to the rock genre, Wayne seems to force himself to fit someone else’s idea of a rapper−turned−rocker.
The songs themselves lack the musicality one would expect from a rock album. Despite Weezy’s best efforts, trading an 808 for a drum kit and a synthesizer for a guitar does not magically produce rock. The orchestration sounds like extended versions of the studio−produced samples used in earlier albums, but mixed in a way that overpowers Wayne’s vocals. Without strong rock musicality, the album ends up sounding more like a mellowed−out, poorly mixed hip−hop album than a venture into the world of rock and roll.
Wayne respectably stayed away from the over−produced auto−tune sound so pervasive in the industry, instead laying down honest, raspy vocals. The drawback to this raw style is Wayne’s lack of tonality, which makes him often sound more like he’s screaming than trying to sing.
Noticeably absent from the album is Wayne’s masterful rapping. Some of the tracks lack any rapping from Wayne whatsoever; others overpower his rapping with distracting drums and distorted guitar riffs. When heard, Wayne doesn’t perform up to the standards he set on his previous albums. His notably fast rapping style is slowed down, making his flow lethargic, and his raps lack the intelligent and clever rhymes of his standard work. The strongest example of the deterioration of Wayne’s rapping is on “Drop the World,” on which he is easily out−rapped by Eminem.
The best tracks of the album are not the marketed singles like “Prom Queen,” but the danceable throwbacks like “Da Da Da,” which survives overly distorted vocals to feature Wayne’s best rapping of the album, and the strong hip−hop track “On Fire,” which sounds more like a deep cut from “Tha Carter III” than an attempt at rock.
Perhaps most disappointing is Wayne’s collaboration with Kevin Rudolf on “One Way Trip.” The track is listless, passionless and cannot compare to the duo’s massive 2008 hit “Let it Rock.” Overall, the album is repetitive, lacking strong melodies to differentiate between tracks and featuring female backing vocals that blend together.
Wayne does not collaborate with any big name rock artists as he dives into the genre. On his hip−hop masterpiece, “Tha Carter III,” Wayne enlisted some of the biggest players in the hip−hop scene, including Jay−Z, T−Pain, Fabolous and Busta Rhymes. The collaborators on “Rebirth,” however, are limited to Eminem, Kevin Rudolf and vocalists like Nicki Minaj and Shanell from Young Money Entertainment, the record label founded by Weezy. The album clearly lacks guidance from within the rock world, producing a sound that is more reminiscent of a boy messing around with his dad’s guitar than a salute to a timeless genre.
Lil Wayne’s “Rebirth” is a disappointment to fans expecting a follow−up to “Tha Carter III” and to critics awaiting an artful fusion of the hip−hop and rock industries as exemplified by the latest album by The Black Keys, an Akron−based rock duo, “Blakroc” (2009). Despite its failures as an album, Wayne’s “Rebirth” is an attempt to expand the hip−hop industry into other genres and will not be the last of its kind. By taking the time to explore the boundaries of his genre, Lil Wayne has the opportunity to return to hip hop with new inspirations and artisanship. Until then, skip “Rebirth” and count down the days until he drops “Tha Carter IV.”