It’s never a good idea to believe your own press. Dwayne Carter, better known as Lil Wayne, has been hearing all about how he was a “rock star” since the release of his acclaimed album Tha Carter III in 2008 cemented his status as one of the greatest rappers of the decade. Apparently he took this rather literally.
His latest studio album, unironically titled Rebirth, is stubbornly billed as a “rock” album. The album cover shows Wayne lazing back and looking vaguely high with an electric guitar draped across his lap — a scene I have little trouble believing surely took place many times in the rapper’s abode. This might be a rather facile point to make, but Rebirth is an album created by hip-hop artists who are fans of rock. I don’t doubt this fandom for a moment, as it is all over every track. Every riff, every song sounds pretty familiar; Lil Wayne is obviously imitating his favorite rock acts. In hip-hop it is cool to sound familiar, to sample something that everyone kind of knows. But in rock sounding so much like your influences is a definite taboo.
Rebirth is full of this kind of mis-orientation of genre sensibilities. Rock is, I understand, defined by guitar riffs, but the most compelling parts of the album sound suspiciously like beats instead. Lil Wayne has a pretty great and unique voice, all smokey and acid rough, but it sounds best when he’s sniggering insults at us with crisp, minimal beats, not wailing out his angst over Linkin Park style cymbal crashing. And anyways the best parts are the ones where he raps instead of sings, even if they do bring back painful memories of “rapcore” groups like Limp Bizkit. I’m sad to say it, but when I got to the end of the album the first time and my iTunes moved on to “Walk In,” the opening track of Lil Wayne’s first Tha Carter…well, it was kind of a relief.
Despite all this, I can’t quite bring myself to completely dislike Rebirth. It is disappointing and at times annoying, especially compared with Lil Wayne’s other work, but I still think it is pretty endearing that he tried. And between Weezy’s undeniable vocal charisma and decent production sense, there will still be a couple dozen worse albums — both rock and hip-hop — coming out this year.
Coincidently this week Lil Wayne is reporting to prison for his sentenced year in jail. It is kind of a shame that he is going to the big house without making it as the literal rock star he hoped to be. It is even more of a shame that we likely won’t hear anything from him for a year or more; it would be nice hear him polish up his newly battered hip-hop credentials, or even take another swing at rock. I have great hopes for Dwayne Carter. After all, T.I. came out of prison to create his best, most mature work. Maybe he’ll be a rock star yet.
You can listen to tracks from Lil Wayne’s Rebirth on his Myspace page, http://www.myspace.com/lilwayne.