It’s a crime of culture, really, and one that happens all too often: a bad sequel to a truly great predecessor or two. From The Godfather Pt. III to Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (I jest), it happens to the best of ‘em. But it takes a truly desperate artist to take a successful trilogy and then throw all artistic integrity to the wind and crap on in the entire series (see: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Alien Resurrection, or any installment in the Star Wars prequel trilogy). And I’m as sorry to say it as you are to hear it, but Dwayne Carter has essentially George Lucas-ed Tha Carter IV.
Another installment in the Tha Carter series was permissible in theory years ago, it (hopefully) being a continuation of Lil’ Wayne’s massive success in the trilogy and his overall enigmatic character. Unfortunately, it ends up being much closer to a trilogy wrecker than it does a solid addition to the lineup of Carter albums.
Tha Carter was a brilliant breakthrough album that received considerable radio airplay and shot Lil’ Wayne into the mainstream limelight, where it became obvious that he belonged. He continued that success with the harder, grittier Tha Carter II, which is where his career really began to take off. He blew up the radio spots with that album and from collaborations he did with other radio darlings. So the stage was set for what would ultimately be his greatest feat yet, Tha Carter III. From start to finish, that is an album that stuns at every second. It won the Grammy for Best Rap Album and went certified triple platinum that year, selling one million copies in its first week of release. It was virtually impossible to avoid hearing “Lollipop”, “A Milli”, or “Got Money” everywhere you went in the summer of 2008. Others may disagree, but I think this is where Lil’ Wayne peaked, and I doubt he’ll ever get back to that level of success. Anyway, as the story continues, Wayne got locked up on a gun charge and spent a good chunk of time in prison, promising his fans Tha Carter IV as soon as he got out.
Which brings us to today. His release from prison last November did not yield a Carter IV, leaving us yearning for the follow-up to the superb Carter III. This was to be a blockbuster among blockbusters, and as such had the bankroll to back it. The album is full to the brim of the tightest, biggest, most intricate production of any hip hop album this calendar year (sorry Ye and Jay), and it’s nearing complete all-star status in terms of (albeit fairly random) guest spots from Andre 3000 to John Legend to a decrepit sounding Shyne – remember him? But that’s what an endless budget will buy you – the best of the best. And statistically, Wayne is pretty solid when it comes to choosing which beats to include. The man’s got good taste. But what the rapper chooses to do with his beats once he has them is a completely different story. And in this unfortunate instance, where he usually goes berserk, he holds back on the whole, throwing out some mediocre raps over some superb production.
From the moment the album opens, Weezy pushes through “Intro”, whose beat is revisited twice more sans Wayne, during “Interlude”, which features Andre 3000 and Tech N9ne, and “Outro”, which features Bun B, Nas, Shyne, and Busta Rhymes. And while it’s interesting to see what each rapper does with the same beat, it becomes repetitive, and what’s worse – ‘dre 3000, Tech N9ne, and Nas all destroy Wayne’s lazy verse, which sort of becomes a theme throughout the album. It seems as though Lil’ Wayne simply isn’t trying quite as hard as he used to. On tracks “Megaman”, “Nightmares of the Bottom”, “Abortion”, and “It’s Good”, Weezy is almost entirely forgettable. And don’t even get me started on the train wreck that is the T-Pain featuring “How To Hate”.
There are, of course, some bright moments on the album, but very few of them revolve around Weezy himself. The only times that the star power is focused directly on Wayne are during tracks that you’ve probably already heard: “6’7’”, “John (If I Die Today)”, and “How To Love” (a ridiculously good first try at a rap power ballad). These are three immensely solid tracks, but they’re tracks that have been floating around the internet for months. The only real surprises here come in the form of one out-of-left-field great track whose production centers cleanly around clips of Jimmy Carter’s Oath of Office, “President Carter”, and some very good guest spots – John Legend’s heart-wrenching chorus on “So Special” is worth sifting through Weezy’s drivel on the track to hear, and Drake’s chorus on “She Will” is teeming with anger and confidence, and really the only reason to ever return to the song.
Overall, by the end of the album it feels like Wayne maybe pushed Tha Carter series one installment too far. Let’s pray there’s no Carter V, for the sake of the integrity of the trilogy.
Regardless of the ups and (many) downs of the album on the whole, though, we need to be realistic. Every conceivable future for Lil’ Wayne is one where he ends up a legend. If he goes Bob Dylan-style and sings his way to the grave (the most plausible option), he’ll always have that Carter II/Carter III era, for which people will remember him fondly. If he retires (semi-plausible, as he has stated that he would like to quit at 35), he’s got an incredible repertoire to look back upon without future releases to dilute it. Or say he pulls a Cat Stevens and goes off the deep end (another very plausible option), we’ll remember him for the good times, not the banned from America, nation of Islam days. Or if he died tomorrow (unfortunately still a quite plausible option), heaven forbid, whether by overdose or by violence, he’d go down with Pac and Biggie as one of the all-time greats who died a tragic and untimely death. Any way he goes from here, legend-status has been achieved, and it cannot be taken from him. The fact that Tha Carter IV was pretty bad by comparison– and that you and I still adore him the same today as we did in 2008– should be solid enough testament as to the truthfulness of that statement.
Essential Tracks: “6’7′ (feat. Cory Gunz)”, “How To Love”, “President Carter”
Feature art by Bianca Triozzi.