Lil Wayne’s Rebirth (A review of sorts)

For the past week or so I have been listening to Lil Wayne’s new album “Rebirth.” For those of you who don’t know (due to the rediscovery of autotune, re introduced to us by T-Pain and subsequently exploited by every rapper) it is a device that allows people who can’t sing to pretend like they can. Lil Wayne (I feel stupid referring to a grown man as Lil anything so from here on he’s just Wayne ok?) uses this device on Rebirth to live out his dream of being what appears to be his idea of a 90’s era rock and roll star. Fittingly, on the first track on the album “American Star” Wayne declares in his auto tune infused manner that he is a “dope boy with a guitar” and that sets the theme for this album which is an ambitious attempt to fuse autotune, rock and rap.

I must say it suprised me that Wayne actually did a pretty decent job. The album is full of cookie cutter rock rifts and Wayne wailing away mostly via autotune with some good performances from singer Shanell, Nicki Minaj (more about this later) and Eminen (who stole the show with his verse on “Drop the World.”)

Stand Out tracks

American Star – this song basically sets the tone for the album as the opener and let’s you know that Wayne is really serious about making an album that can be classified as a rock album

Ground Zero- this track to me basically Wayne talking about some abstract stuff as he is prone to do with a refrain that basically goes “Lets jump off a building baby” he’s mostly talking about getting high.

Da Da Da -a song that might or is already being released as a single I wouldn’t know I don’t listen to the radio anymore, for this reason it receives most of the ire from rock critics ( more on this later) but the song is probably the least rock on the album as Lil Wayne is going for that sweet spot known as pop where he can get radio play on a rock station and still maybe get played on the Hip Hop club scene as well.

Paradice – probably the most introspective Wayne will ever get, as he’s basically railing against being successful, which he does a lot on this album, trying to catch the feeling of a guy who people think has it all and telling the listener “this ain’t paradice”

Drop the world – I actually heard Drop the World a few months ago and thought it was ridiculous, but this is a song that sounds better when listening to the overall context of the album, the album is pretty dark and it actually reflects a lot of frustration on Wayne’s part and this is just an extension of that, Ditto for the track Get a Life.

Runnin’ – this track features a great performance by Shanell on the hook and it’s funny on a few of these tracks the backdrop of the song, meaning the beat and the chorus, basically the idea for the song sounds better without Wayne on it, I think this is one of those songs.

Knockout – this is the song that for some reason is the most catchy song to me it’s basically about a guy and a girl getting with each other and this is another song that probably would be better without Wayne. Nicki Minaj sounds good on this one (yes I actually said Nicki Minaj sounds good on something…even people with little or no talent can hit every once in a while.)

In conclusion, Wayne’s album is a mixture of pop rock, pop hip hop, and autotune. In other words if you liked something that sounded like Limp Bizkit back in the 90’s you’ll probably like this album.

As an aside I read a bunch of reviews of the album by mostly rock critics. Predictably, they panned the album saying it was terrible and Wayne should never again make forays into the realm of rock and roll.

I’d like to make two points about this, whatever I’ve said about Wayne as a rapper (in short I detest him) I can’t deny that he has stretched the boundary of Hip Hop with his style. His style is abstract and I’ve always thought it to actually be more amenable to rock than Hip Hop .

In short if you listen carefully to his wordplay and how he references things it is a lot more abstract than most of what we’ve seen in Hip Hop lately and for that I have to respect him. Hip Hop is an art form and by necessity that should make it a little abstract, except because of social pressures, Hip Hop has become very predictable and generally confined to the space of entertainers creating action stories and storylines about fantastic drug deals and the accumulation of money and women, while glorifying the violence and danger that accompanies it. At this point I have no major axe to grind against that,  except to warn parents with children;  just as they advise their children that tv is not real, they should be equally vigilant in reminding their kids that the rappers that say whatever they say on wax are mostly entertainers and they don’t really do what they say they do.

This brings me to my second point, I believe the recent and not so recent rush of rappers to perform other forms of music says something about Hip Hop at large. When I look at the list of rappers who no longer rap or have released music in other types of genres, such as Andre 3000, Cee-lo, Lauryn Hill, and more recently Kanye West and Lil Wayne, I see a statement being made. The statement these rappers are making in my humble opinion is that they can not fully express the fullness of their humanity in an environment in which the most successful artists are those who are very good at recycling the same tired songs about drug dealing and gang life or who just waste their talent making pointless club songs. So by moving themselves to a different genre they can rid themselves of the constraints that are placed upon rappers. It is sad that the current global marketplace still apparently desires to see predominantly young black men portray themselves as caricatures of a doomed lifestyle that holds few options for true success, than to let them branch out and reflect the beauty, ugliness, happiness and sadness that it is not only to be Black in America, but just to be a human being in the world.

I wasn’t surprised by the comments made by so-called rock experts. For instance, one writer says “The biggest problem with Rebirth, however, is its lyrically weak center. Wayne shows almost none of the chops he’s displayed on prior recordings. It’s as if the rock backdrop somehow exposes every songwriting flaw and lays it bare” (paradoxically doesn’t this quote insinuate that Wayne always had flaws in his songwriting that were somehow covered up by the Hip Hop backdrop?) another in a particularly vitriolic rant about the ills of the album says “Jay-Z scored a Grammy for “D.O.A. (Death of AutoTune),” but Wayne’s album makes a better case for the banishment of the voice modulator than a thousand recordings by Jamie Foxx, Cher and T-Pain combined.”

Despite what these critics say, I think the genius in Wayne’s album is not necessarily what he does with the music but what the album says about society just by its very existence. Upon reading the reviews of these critics, it is clear they do what critics are supposed to do, which is turn a critical eye toward music. In these reviews they lampoon Wayne for not having serious lyrics, at the same time most of these albums without fail mention the lyrical genius of Wayne’s previous effort, Tha Carter 3. One of the aforementioned critics in between all of their hate about Rebirth had this to say. “Tha Carter 3…combined anger with skill and playfullness.” I’m sorry but I listened to Tha Carter 3 and there was a bit of anger and playfullness but not much of what I would consider skill. Nevertheless, they laud Wayne for his so-called genius on his rap album and bash him on his rock album. My point here is that Wayne’s genius is not that he made a rock album. His genius is that he used PRECISELY the same approach in making his rock album that he has been using in making rap albums, but when it comes to rock these critics expect more. They look for more humanity, more skill, more musical knowledge, and more brilliance. What they got instead was a look at rock and roll from the eyes of a young black man who doesn’t specialize in Hip Hop so much as he specializes in Pop music. But when Wayne makes Pop Hip Hop constrained as he is by market to file himslef into what can only be a caricature he is praised. When he takes the same approach to rock music, and shows these critics how one dimensional pop music really is they become appalled. One critic went so far as to say Wayne wasn’t doing rock so much as he was doing what he thought rock might sound like. In essence Wayne didn’t really “get it” when it came to rock. All I can say is welcome to the world of true Hip Hop artists who wish most of the mainstream could see that what is looked at as Hip Hop is really a one dimensional joke, and the mainstream doesn’t really “get” Hip Hop. On Rebirth, Wayne is a “dopeboy with a guitar”, on every other album in his career he has only been a dopeboy. By making this album Wayne has really revealed the hypocritical lens with which we look at Hip Hop as opposed to Rock and Roll. For the so-called critics who hate Rebirth but love Tha Carter 3 the joke is on them. For my part I hope they do “get” it.

links to some reviews referenced