“Tha Carter IV” has arrived with gargantuan expectations that Lil Wayne cannot match. How could he? The last installment in the New Orleans rapper’s “Carter” series, “Tha Carter III,” was a perfect storm of critical and commercial acclaim, riding well-constructed hits like “A Milli” and “Got Money” to become the top-selling album of 2008, and earning a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year along the way. Two years earlier, Lil Wayne was a lauded mixtape rapper still moving on from his Hot Boyz days; with “Tha Carter III,” he became the biggest rapper in the world.
“Tha Carter IV” has been heavily anticipated ever since, the promised payoff after the misguided rock album “Rebirth,” the odds-and-ends release “I Am Not a Human Being,” and a stellar first single, “6 Foot 7 Foot,” that Lil Wayne dropped after being released from prison last fall. To his credit, Lil Wayne has remained a cultural force during the album delays, touring the country on his best-selling I Am Still Music tour this year and lending his charm to recent hits by Kelly Rowland, DJ Khaled and Drake. Two singles from “Tha Carter IV,” “How To Love” and “She Will,” are currently in the Top 10 of the Hot 100 — Lil Wayne is still on the top of the world, as uneven as “Tha Carter IV” may be.
Make no mistake, “Tha Carter IV” is not a bad album, and may be more easily digested and supported by those largely unfamiliar with Weezy’s antics and unaware of his previous highs (pun intended). But Lil Wayne diehards will notice the lack of gargantuan hooks, knocking beats and microphone personality that made “Tha Carter II” an unexpected breakout and “Tha Carter III” a watershed moment in mainstream hip-hop. Most frustratingly, Weezy’s wordplay has taken a turn toward the pedestrian: the man who once delivered linguistic cartwheels on mixtapes like “Dedication 2″ and “Da Drought 3″ now delivers punchlines like “You’re on the outside looking in, close the blinds/They say never say never, but fucking nevermind,” with little imagination or panache. And while Weezy’s strength has always been in shooting off brilliant similes instead of developing narratives, “Tha Carter IV” oddly lacks any reflection from Wayne on the hectic three years since “Tha Carter III,” including his extended time in prison.
“Tha Carter IV” may suffer due to lofty expectations, but there are still plenty of highlights: “6 Foot 7 Foot” still captures the machine-gun wordspray that Lil Wayne and producer Bangladesh previously created on “A Milli,” while “President Carter” samples Jimmy Carter’s 1976 inauguration in a flash of genius. Meanwhile, “She Will” and “So Special” offer the quick shots of melody that colored “Carter III” standouts like “Mrs. Officer” and “Let the Beat Build.” Is “Tha Carter IV” Lil Wayne’s crowning achievement? Definitely not. Is it worth repeated listens? Definitely.
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