Leave it to Lil Wayne to be uncomfortable sticking to Auto-Tuned rap tracks. He’s got to prove that rap-rock is still a viable option for the up-and-coming rap kingpins. Unfortunately for him, even Lil Wayne can’t breathe any real life into the dessicated corpse of the genre. With a few occasional exceptions, Rebirth is nothing more than an experiment which only rarely delivers anything close to the desired “rock” result. On the rest of the album the resulting mix is rap or rock in name only.
Wayne has become known as the king of missed street dates for good reason. Though he’s been among the most prolific rap collaborators in recent years, appearing on pretty much anyone’s track when the money’s right, he’s also a perfectionist and a self-promotor, which means he’s prone to talking up all the future projects he’d like to do while rarely managing to finish the ones he’s started.
Rebirth has been his pet project since Tha Carter III dropped in early ‘08, but at least half a dozen missed street dates and five singles later the album still isn’t “officially” out. Some of that falls on Wayne, who’s still reportedly tweaking the track-listing weeks before the supposed final official street date. The rest falls on his label, which panics every time Wayne’s voice ends up on a rival single, supposedly sapping energy from the one which they hope will promote Rebirth, turning it into the next million-a-week seller.
Unfortunately all those missed dates has raised the ante on the expectations laid on the back of Rebirth and it’s not up to the task. As a rap album this one’s merely average, unlikely to keep even his most ardent hardcore fans happy. As a rock album it’s an utter failure, with most of the “rock” relying on overly heavy drumming by the likes of Travis Barker, making the album sound like a Linkin Park castoff from 2003.
The singles, however, will still help sell the album despite its weaker moments. “Prom Queen” may already be played out, since it’s been in release since early last summer, but “Drop The World,” which features Eminem, is one of the album’s hottest moments. “I got ice in my veins, blood in my eyes, hate in my heart and love in my mind,” Wayne raps, before everything completely breaks down in his head. The song’s got an amazing chorus, is catchy as hell and ready for the bass to get cranked to 11 while driving with the windows down and your fist out the car window (and Eminem’s scaldingly hot third verse doesn’t hurt a bit).
Then there’s “Runnin,” which features Shanell, who on the chorus sounds like Kelly Clarkson, or at least like pre-”Roulette” Rihanna. This could be Lil Wayne’s crossover hope; it’s got his dark lyrics over a Linkin Park-esque bass-line and Travis Barker’s heavy drums, coupled with choruses led by top-40 ready female vocals the likes of which could turn this one into next summer’s big hit. The final result isn’t necessarily a great track; it borrows liberally from all the rap-rockers who’ve come before. But that’s what makes a universally popular crossover track these days. And Wayne’s rhyming’s at its zenith early in the song: “This is my testification/ I’m gonna Wayne on your hands like precipitation/ And in hell do you need justification/ For me it was just a vacation…” It doesn’t have to make sense any more than it does on “Drop The World” when he vows to hop in his spaceship and leave earth, motherfucker. It just has to rock, and in these few cases, Rebirth actually stands a chance at success.
That said, the rest of the album’s a mess. The tracklisting’s all over the place, and with Wayne’s frequent tinkering, there’s no way to know which listing will make the final cut. I hear there’s a twelve-track regular album in the works, with a 14-track Deluxe Edition, but here we have a 19-track edition which featured almost 90 minutes of schizophrenic overindulgence. In the case of Rebirth, and rap-rock in general, less is more, and for Lil Wayne, this could prove to be his biggest gamble yet. Odds are it’ll be a success in the short term, but the end result is a weak album from a guy who thinks everything he touches turns to multi-platinum.
If his rap fans don’t come along for the ride, there’s going to be a lot riding on his return to rap on Tha Carter IV, because even Lil Wayne’s not invincible.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.