In this day and age, when originality and creativity seem to be dying breeds in the music scene, a musician that tries to think outside the box and push the envelope should be commended. Of course, that’s only if the effort is sincere, and not just an attempt to conquer a wide variety of styles for bragging rights. And it’s also nice if the effort turns into something listenable. Sadly, with Lil’ Wayne’s much-hyped, much-delayed, and likely soon to be much-praised Rebirth, this isn’t the case.
Luckily, though, Lil’ Wayne has managed to win over so many fans that it doesn’t really matter that this record barely qualifies as music. Thanks to his prior efforts, Wayne is at a point in his career where he can release songs that would never get a second listen from a record executive were his name not attached to them. Why Wayne decided to branch out and attempt to create a rock album is a bit mysterious; perhaps he wanted to try something different before his rap game became stale. Or maybe Wayne was so impressed by Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak that he wanted to try out some auto-tune singing himself. Whatever the reason, it must have been pretty compelling, because it managed to blind everyone involved with this project to the fact that it is terrible, and at many times, not much different at all than Lil’ Wayne’s other recordings.
Rebirth kicks off with “American Star,” which begins with some Van Halen-esque electric guitar noodling before Lil’ Wayne sings/talks his way through a verse backed by a simple snare beat and some electric guitar. While the sound is different and the flow is less rap and more rock, the vapid subject matter is familiar, Wayne sings “Listen to my own voice in my black Rolls Royce, get the girls of my choice to take off their shorts and blouses.” Inspirational. The chorus also indicates that Lil’ Wayne hasn’t broken out of the habits of the rap scene, as it consists of Wayne promoting himself as a “dope boy with a guitar,” though guest Shanell does most of the vocal work there. Unlike Wayne, though, Shanell doesn’t have her voice drowning in auto-tune on every line, and actually provides some listenable moments.
The next song, “Prom Queen,” has been infecting the airwaves and internet for quite a while now, so it will likely be familiar to a vast majority of listeners. It begins with a guitar riff that sounds like a warm-up for a pre-teen’s first guitar lesson before Lil’ Wayne talks over the beat and some palm-muted guitar. Again, Wayne’s voice is barely recognizable thanks to the heavy use of auto-tune, so it’s difficult to tell how well he can sing, if at all. The story seems to be an uninspired rip off of Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi,” as Wayne sings about being turned down by a girl with “fancy underwear” in school turned him down, though now he has the Prom Queen crying outside his door, so “you never know how everything can turn around.”
“Ground Zero” follows, and it continues the trend of songs with uninspired riffs that eventually drop to a barely discernible level as Lil’ Wayne sings. Of course, by this track, he has apparently tired of trying the “singing” thing, because he is back to rapping about how high he is, how sexy he is, how much he likes to fornicate, and how he has a lot of drugs. Gee, I feel like I’ve heard that before. Oh yeah, like every other song Lil’ Wayne has released. Additionally, this track displays an impressive display of poor judgment, as the bridge features Wayne singing, “Let’s jump off a building baby, let’s jump out a window.” Perhaps a song titled, “Ground Zero” isn’t the most appropriate place for that line. Of course, when you’re the greatest rapper (and soon to be rockstar) alive, I guess you can really do whatever you want.
The next rack, “Da Da Da,” starts with a cool, jazzy riff, although after those brief few seconds of listenable music, the track rockets off in a completely different direction, devolving into the kind of song you’d hear at a club to keep people dancing in between songs that the crowd actually likes. Again, Wayne isn’t quite up to the effort of singing, perhaps because he’s already performed some intellectual heavy lifting via some name-dropping, saying he’s Benjamin Franklin’s twin and that he’s “like Michael Phelps with my backstroke.” It’s hard not to be thankful for that last tidbit of information, because it shows that Phelps and Lil’ Wayne evidently have more in common than just smoking marijuana in their free time and wearing gold. The fact that Wayne couldn’t even bother to think of actual words for the chorus, instead opting for “Da Da Da,” is just another indication that he’s already tired of that whole rock album thing he was trying to do.
“Paradice” begins with a light, cleanly-picked guitar riff with Wayne crooning over it, and moves into a chorus of “Oh no, this ain’t paradice.” The percussion here seems to be something out of a boy-band anthem, although the rest of the instrumentation and singing suggests soft rock, so there’s a bit of a weird vibe going on here. When you pair that mood with the fact that Lil’ Wayne is “crooning,” it’s not an entirely enjoyable experience. With that said, however, this isn’t completely unlistenable – there is a nice piano interlude that leads into Wayne breaking it down and dropping some rhymes and actually waxing prophetic with the line, “Call me crazy, I’ve been called worse, it’s like I have it all, but what’s it all worth?” The song ends with the addition of some strings to accompany the singing and piano, which is a nice touch.
Unfortunately, all that was good in “Paradice” is immediately countered by “Get A Life,” which really can’t be described in any positive terms. The quick tempo gives it a hurried feel, and the lyrics are less than inspiring; the chorus kicks off with “F— you, get a life.” Wayne alternates between talking, shouting and rapping in this one, and the end product is not a pretty one. Between the studio effects and Wayne’s unique delivery, a lot of the lyric are incomprehensible, but the general idea isn’t hard to grasp: F— you, and get a life.
Upon first listening to “On Fire,” it’s difficult to tell whether Lil’ Wayne actually intended to make a joke of a song that parodies the music of the 1980s or whether this just seemed like a good idea at the time. The opening riff reeks of Prince, Michael Jackson, and even some Van Halen all rolled into one, with some corny synthesizer. The song beefs up the percussion and adapts the riff to a more rap-friendly feel, which sounds cool, but Wayne fails to deliver top notch rhymes to match it. In a sense, this song feels like one that has a hook but nothing else to go with it. The best part of this track is the brief guitar solo, but listeners will spend the rest of the four minutes waiting for a verse, or something, to happen. Hint: don’t hold your breath.
The next track, “Drop The World,” begins with some funky, catchy synth beats with Wayne narrating about the difficulties of his life: “I got ice in my veins, blood in my eyes. Hate in my heart, love in my mind. I seen nights full of pain, days of the same.” All of this, apparently, has motivated the rapper to feel like he needs to “pick the world up and drop it on your f—ing head.” To use a phrase I thought I’d never write, the best part of “Drop The World” is when Eminem injects some much-needed energy into this track with an enthusiastic, fast-paced guest spot. Eminem completely changes the tempo of the song and breaks it out of its own slump; perhaps this track will provide enough evidence to convince those that think Lil’ Wayne has the best flow ever that he’s really nothing special.
“Runnin” follows, and opens with a riff quite similar to the one that began “Paradice.” Again, Wayne talks his way through an uninspired verse, which may lead some listeners to settle down and prepare for some mundane mediocrity. Those that do will be blown away by Shanell’s soaring voice in the chorus. Luckily, she continues into the next verse, offering a feel unlike anything else on this record. Shanell seems genuinely talented (no auto-tune here), and this track is a great way for her to show off her impressive range. In a rare display of good taste, Wayne keeps to the background for most of this track, popping in to toss out a few lines before Shanell blows him away with fresh vocals. Wayne doesn’t really seem to wake up until the final 20 seconds or so, delivering a decent outro, but nothing he could have pulled off there would make one forget Shanell’s performance.
The next song, “One Way Trip,” is another song that doesn’t resemble rock at all except for the backing instrumentation and the chorus, delivered by Kevin Rudolf. Everything else, though, just speaks of tired rap, with Lil’ Wayne exploring the same territory he’s bragged about countless times before, apparently trying to bump up his womanizing cred, rapping, “fell asleep with another chick from my building, kick her a– out without breakfast like a motherf—er, I’m with another b—- by supper.” Awesome, can’t wait to tell the grandkids that story. I feel bad for Rudolf on this one, because the vocals he delivers, along with the instrumentation in the chorus, seem like they could have been part of a cool song if it wasn’t turned into a mediocre rap song. After all, didn’t Lil’ Wayne say this was going to be a rock album?
“Knockout,” the following track, begins with a riff that feels like Blink-182 sans the distortion. Lil’ Wayne sings/chants the first verse, then wisely lets guest Nicki Minaj take the next one. The rest of the song basically loops itself, and it’s not really that notable.
The final song on the album, “The Price Is Wrong,” is similar to “Get A Life,” in that it just seems hurried and not very well thought out. The lyrics are a little different here, as Wayne is talking about a girl that stole his heart and ran away, though he’d “f— her anyway.” You know, because she’s clearly into him. The entire song just seems like a race to the finish, with Wayne’s delivery and the crashing cymbals and guitars speeding along and bordering on incoherence. Evidently, though, the song doesn’t finish quite quickly enough, as Wayne ends up repeating “Okay” about twenty times at one point, leading one to wonder if Lil’ John had managed to slip into the studio.
To any Lil’ Wayne fans still reading at this point, I offer the following disclaimer: Rebirth is not a terrible rap album. But it is borderline embarrassing as a rock album. I understand that this may have been a creative leap, and perhaps Wayne was sincerely attempting to expand his horizons. Whatever the case, it didn’t work. The instrumentation is obviously an afterthought, just something to talk/rap/brag/auto-tune over. So if you’ve enjoyed Wayne’s other releases, you’ll probably like this one too. If you’re looking for something different, though,pick up some Wilco and call me in the morning.