Artist: Lil' Wayne
Label: Cash Money/Universal/Young Money
When artists achieve a great amount of success, some like to start experimenting with their style and formula, even if for just a short time. Their peers' and audience's praise have given them confidence in their abilities, so why not? However, unfortunately, this can also be met with criticism when their apparent "genius" strays too far form its roots, and into uncharted, unfamiliar territory. This is where we stand with Lil' Wayne's Rebirth. Pushed back ten months from its original release date in 2009, the project was slated to be Wayne's popular foray into the rock genre. As one might have guessed, there's a reason his record execs were nervous about the public hearing this.
Fundamentally, Rebirth has more problems than positives-- by a long shot. Surprisingly, enlisting a never-was like Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz to help may end up being the least of them. At its core, the project fails from the start. Lil' Wayne, the rapper, is supposed to be able to turn himself into Lil' Wayne, the rock frontman? The issues with that concept are numerous. Wayne can't sing without the help of auto-tune, as exemplified on tracks like "Paradice." Even with that assistance, it's still barely tolerable, as his drawl-filled delivery gets blurred and buried by an undying barrage of over-the-top guitar solos.
The cliches are endless. Yes, we know that Lil' Wayne lives his life as a rock star in the most classic sense-- sex, drugs, money and alcohol being the main themes of his existence-- and that's fine. In the context of a hip-hop album, not only does it work, but works well, since the message is delivered over superior sampling and production. But here, the message is seemingly on repeat as Wayne rarely raps, and belittles his lyrical abilities to simple rhymes and the same few sound bites about love and sex. There's even an entire song ("Ground Zero") just about being really high. Either he just assembled his most random thoughts and threw them up onto the canvas that became this album, or this is Wayne's perception on rock. Regardless, the semblance of order and believability is continually challenged as he attempts everything from the sunny beach pop of "Get A Life" to "Da Da Da"'s mention of a "funky monkey," to the "hurrah" gang cheers on "One Way Trip." Equal parts poorly executed and ill advised, the overwhelming majority of Rebirth warrants no more than a few seconds of listening to understand its purely ridiculous presentation.
All that being said, the album does contain a couple tolerable moments and one would be amiss to deny their presence. "On Fire," in comparison to everything that surrounds it, is surprisingly honest and locked-in. Wayne tells us it's about sex upfront, and throughout its mashed up elements of 1980s pop and mainstream rock, it remains true to that ideal. The other favorable outcome could be the appearance of Young Money up-and-comer Shanell, who, oddly enough can sing extremely well. The problem is that she plays second-fiddle to Lil' Wayne (as anyone else would on this album) throughout her numerous appearances--most notably "Runnin"-- and anytime she does get the chance to sing, her voice is adorned with some sloppy nu metal backdrop. If you take anything good away from Rebirth, perhaps she's it.
Maybe Rebirth was doomed to fail from the start. Or perhaps every successful artist needs an effort such as this one (even The Beatles had one dud in them) to get themselves refocused on what made them great in the first place. The fact of the matter is that Rebirth ends not only being bad, but downright putrid. Based on the positive reaction to recent mixtape No Ceilings, it' s not as if Wayne has lost it. He just needed to see that he couldn't make a good rock album, to know for sure that it was true. Any other artist, and maybe this would be blasted even further, or (more likely) it never gets recorded in the first place. But now that it's all over, let's just agree that it was an unparalleled failure, and move on. Tha Carter IV can't come soon enough.
Best Track: "On Fire"
[Previously on Animal Noises: New Lil' Wayne Video, "On Fire"]