The artist up for review this week hardly needs an introduction. Any words I put together to encapsulate Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. feel appropriately hollow; how does one begin to define the self-proclaimed “best rapper alive?” Arguably the most ubiquitous musical personality of the last decade, Lil’ Wayne constantly eludes description. Whether blogging for ESPN, appearing by name in at least two of Barack Obama’s public speeches, or inspiring a national movement for his release from an obviously legitimate year-long incarceration for weapons possession, Weezy never fails to turn heads. However, his latest release, I Am Not a Human Being, recorded prior to his imprisonment, unfortunately falls flat. Like Rebirth before it, the album suffers from stale production, outdated aesthetics, and a seeming lack of focus on Wayne’s part.
Listeners whose expectations were deflated after hearing Rebirth will find very little to salvage from I Am Not a Human Being. Expecting a gritty, raw record motivated by the unforgiving realities of Wayne’s experiences behind bars? Look elsewhere. This release, chock-full of filler, plays out like a discarded mixtape from two summers ago. Lil’ Wayne, possibly hip-hop’s greatest mixtape MC, effectively contrasts the playful, pastiche quality of his mixes with the thematic focus and coherence of his album releases. However, I Am Not a Human Being’s disjointed collection of songs shares in the shamefully masturbatory quality of Rebirth, and like the latter, is comprised of material better suited to the collage of a mixtape.
For starters, the album’s production suffers from an apparent lack of creativity. Featuring a different mid-level producer attempting his own crass version of Drake’s “I’m Goin’ In,” each song lamentably draws attention to the artifice of 808 beats and recycled synthesizers. On Tha Carter III standout “Let The Beat Build,” Lil’ Wayne’s lyrics possessed enough self-reflexivity to provide the song’s basic beat with a liveliness only he could achieve (albeit with some help from Kanye West).
However, none of the secondhand beats found on I Am Not a Human Being allow Weezy much of an opportunity to provide life support, despite his best efforts. As always, his performance still lives up to the standard he has earned through an inimitable work ethic, but unfortunately his lyricism here feels obscured by seeming negligence on his part. The album’s title alone informs the redundancy of its content: didn’t Tha Carter III spend 17 songs reminding us precisely how non-human Lil Wayne could really be?
Opener “Gonorrhea” plays like an audiobook entitled “Rap 101.” Within 10 seconds of the song’s introduction, the obligatory siren, airhorn, and joint-inhalation sounds have already grinded on listeners’ ears. Wayne’s lyrics sound exhausted, almost like parodies of themselves. With a refrain like “I don’t want your gonorrhea,” how else are we meant to react? Even the signature shock value of his lyrics feels deflated and uninspired: on Tha Carter III’s opener, “3 Peat,” Weezy threatened to “run up in a n****’s house and shoot his grandmother up,” a claim that vastly overshadows his threat on “Gonorrhea” to “kill your seorita and f*ck your mama ma.” The latter song still benefits from Wayne’s knack for wordplay, but it lacks the fresh punch that made Tha Carter III so iconic. The distorted crunch of the Infamous-produced title track only lends more credence to the claim that Lil’ Wayne must steer clear of the electric guitar. What worked on Jay-Z’s career-defining “99 Problems” fails on nearly all of its inevitably embarrassing iterations, I Am Not a Human Being notwithstanding.
Even Wayne’s Young Money contemporaries and protégés Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Tyga, featured in a total of seven of the album’s 12 tracks, sound phoned-in. The typically impressive Minaj provides her best Rihanna imitation on “What’s Wrong With Them,” but amid a wall of oddly fuzzed and barely audible synths, the song loses its grip. The cookie-cutter soul of “With You” feels generic and tacked on, featuring a crooning R&B loop full of more life than Drake’s tattered vocals.
The main problem with I Am Not a Human Being lies in its dated nature. Its songs, infused with a bygone sensibility of sugary B.o.B.-style commercial hip-hop, possess none of the vitality or ingenuity that KiD CuDi or Wale bring to that particular fad. Katy Perry and Taio Cruz flavoring the billboard with dance-fueled pop sing-a-longs in Lil’ Wayne’s absence don’t leave much room for similar attitudes in hip-hop, especially not after The Roots, Drake, and Big Boi spent last summer giving the genre back its edge.Weezy usually occupies a niche far ahead of his rap contemporaries, but a nine-month prison sentence puts a serious dent in his credibility as a current artist, especially given the cheap emptiness of his last two “albums.” Marketing “Lil Wayne’s latest release” is like resealing a carton of chunky, expired milk and advertising it as “fresh from the udder.”