Dedicated To: Grandma Lucas, whose introduction to Lil Wayne was his Katie Couric interview in 2009. Since then, in her best Wayne impression, she will say, “I’m A Gangster, Miss Katie” every time I’m around her. She's my homie for life. Read this while playing Lil Wayne’s "Gossip," the live performance version.
She looks at me with eyes of warmth, eyes of love – the eyes of a grandmother. She will tell me that I’ve gotten taller before we part ways, I’ll smile, knowing that she is the one that has changed. It’s common for our elders to shrink, their bones begin to soften, begin to brittle, working like a growth spurt in reverse. Each time I see her, she’s a bit shorter, a gradual change, throughout the years she has become smaller than the woman whose lap I use to sit in.
I think of rappers that used to be these young and bright, large enough to overshadow the sun, but are now becoming elders suffering from a similar condition, a celebrity form of osteoporosis. Slowly shrinking, becoming less important, less impactful, the ravenous sharks that use to disrupt the flow are now comfortable goldfish moving with the current. Out of all the rappers that I grew up admiring, it pains me most to see Lil Wayne's fall from Mt. Olympus. He was once a candidate I would argue as the best breathing, a favorite rapper that severed beats and devoured rappers, a mixtape monster that caused pandemonium with every release and leak. His reigning era feels long ago, while he is still extremely popular and still showing signs of life, I spent years trying to deny that his recent years prove he isn’t aging like wine but like a raisin in the sun.
It doesn’t feel like Wayne released a new album just days ago. There isn’t enough chatter, my timeline isn’t full of quotes, as I predicted the blogs have only shown minor signs of love or hate, I haven't seen any of the trendy topics that usually arrive with the release of new Wayne. A few years ago a surprise album from Wayne would’ve broke the internet, but the kind of reaction Sorry For The Wait 2 recieved makes Free Weezy look like a paper cut in comparison. True, the album was quarantined on Tidal, but rising above the tide line is now also a great test of artist popularity. Tidal was obviously counting on Wayne's star power being bright enough to get holdouts to to finally break down and subscribe. We don't know the official numbers, but anecdotally it didn't work; I literally don't know a single person who signed up so they could get FWA, myself included. And while Wayne's dimished impact has to be attributed somewhat to Tidal exclusisivity, it feels like a much deeper problem. When Drake suddenly released IYRTITL I was flooded with requests for a download link, my phone didn’t stop ringing, same when Kendrick liberated TPAB early, but even considering Free Weezy is a mere mixtape, Wayne didn’t cause the slightest stir. After years of hearing countless records that waivered on promising resurgence and complete disaster, I’ve finally lost my enthusiasm. I barely cared. It’s like being in a long marriage that’s stuck in a drought after the kids leave for college, where all the passion and excitement has completely dried up. There’s nothing new or fresh being brought to the table, you know what to expect, trapped in the routine stage, there’s no hope of surprise. I know what Wayne offers in 2015, another batch of dim highlights and auto-tune missteps.
In his prime, Wayne was Achilles in the Trojan War, a warrior that appeared to be invincible, each verse more robust than the last. Time just happens to be the arrow that pierced his heel. While his high volumes of releases once created this image of a Martian that only recorded raps, impregnated beautiful women and consumed an abundance of Styrofoam cups, it also burned him out. We're familiar with the same stream-of-conscious acrobatics, the bite, the vigor, he’s competing with his old self and a generation of rappers inspired by his old efforts. He lacks the vision and ambition that kept Jay Z in the spotlight. Wayne never attempted to mature his subject matter. He lacks the innovation that's kept us interested in new Kanye, he attacks each song like a bull and the beat is a matador. This approach worked when his punchlines were jaw cracking and his eccentric voice and flows was new and alien, but time has caused his most admirable traits to age in an era full of bizarre styles.
I did give FWA a listen, it...isn’t terrible, by modern Wayne standards. Nothing on par with the classics but he has plenty of moments where his strengths are showcased, like “Glory” and “Post Bail Ballin.” The latter is the kind of song that reminds you why Wayne is fun, line after line of focused lyricism, based on the title, Rick Ross would’ve been a good feature. An immediate standout was “My Heart Races” with singer Jake Troth. The unknown singer took me back to when Wayne and Robin Thicke were a winning duo, the days of “Shooter” and “Tie My Hands.” We hear Wayne rap with a sentimental introspection that I haven’t heard from him in years. He even acknowledges the latest string of police killings, reminding me that Wayne can have a political voice, "George Bush" is still one of my favorites from his immense catalog. Another interesting record is “London Roads,” surprisingly produced by Rich Gang’s LondonOnTheTrack. Possibly a track done before his departure from Birdman. Near the end, he retells the story about how he shot himself when he was 12-years-old and mentions the police officer that saved his life recently died. It’s a rare, poignant moment where he gives the officer credit for the successful artist he is today. It makes me wonder if Wayne has kept in touch with that man and his family this entire time.
You can hear hunger in songs like “Pull Up” and “Murda” but then he has records like “Psycho”, a song confessing a series of disturbing thoughts that should be sealed away in a burning diary. “Thinking Bout You” is another attempt at making a song for a young love interest, I rather hear him sing about flanges with prostitutes. Wayne albums tend to feel more random than arranged to paint a bigger picture, FWA is crafted in a similar way. There’s not much different from this album and what he’s been putting, the songs are almost interchangeable at this point. It’s only 15 tracks and I was left feeling like there was more good than bad, you can hear him attempting to regain his footing, but it’s like watching the mediocre episode of a formerly great TV series. I know how good it can be and anything less just leaves you craving the better days. Always hoping that a new season will revert back to its former glory. If you ever watched The Office or Community in its entirety you know feeling.
Wayne will very likely never again be who he once was. I’ve accepted this harsh reality. Wayne is at the crossroads, he needs to evolve or die, and the Grim Reaper is sharpening his scythe. He has a song, “He’s Dead,” a burial for the artist that was on Cash Money. But the good news is that if that Wayne is really dead, he has the opportunity to reinvent himself once more. Without change, Wayne is just staring at a mirror hoping to see former glory. There’s no magic in predictable, there’s no improvement in repetition, he has to accept he has to adapt. The same way my grandmother has to accept her graying hair, the increasing medication, and all the effects of time. She can’t do what she did at 30, Wayne can’t rap like he did at 25, and until he realizes this, he will continue to gradually shrink.He may be free from Birdman's clutches, but he's still chained to the past.
[By Yoh, aka Lil Gudda Gudda Yoh, aka @Yoh31]