Normally, I applaud artists who have the courage to change directions musically despite being successful in their initial genre. Normally, I would say the criticism of that artist is just the ignorant grumblings of those who can’t appreciate the new work for what it is. However, like all things Lil Wayne’s Rebirth, the New Orleans rapper’s foray into "rock" music, is about as abnormal as bipartisanship in congress.
It would make sense for Lil Wayne to view Rebirth as his Kid A, and Tha Carter III as his OK Computer. When I heard Rebirth, I began to doubt whether Lil Wayne has ever even heard of Radiohead. The maddening issue with Rebirth is that Lil Wayne has ventured into a genre that he clearly has nothing more than cursory knowledge of. Kid A was shocking, but was still a great album because the members of Radiohead are students of electronic music, while Rebirth is only shocking because someone actually released it.
The album gets off to an auspicious start with “American Star,” which opens with a bombastic chord and cheesy Randy Rhodes guitar riff that would have seemed clich© and outdated in 1988. The entrance of Lil Wayne’s Auto-Tuned voice is both hilarious and sad, as there are few things less rockâ€˜n’roll than Auto-Tune. Labelmate Shannell, featured in three songs on the album, makes her first appearance in "American Star," singing that she’s "riding with the dope boy," ironic for the opening song considering how far from “dope” Rebirth actually is.
"Prom Queen," the first single released more than a year ago, follows. Widely panned upon it’s release, the instrumentation sounds like a B-side from a second-rate late 90’s Nu metal band, making the infuriating and ridiculous Auto-Tune sound even more out of place. "’Ground Zero’s" punk-infused opening phrase inspires some hope that the album could be making a turn for the better, especially since Lil Wayne begins to rap. And about getting high, nonetheless! Unfortunately, in comparison to his most recent mixtape, No Ceilings, the lyrics on Rebirth simply cannot compare. Lil Wayne spouts off gems like "I’m so high that the ground is gone" and "let’s jump out a window/ let’s jump off a building, baby" during the bridge, while the unwavering punk phrase, undoubtedly the brainchild of the song’s producer, Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, grows increasingly stale throughout.
The middle of the album kicks off with "Da Da Da," a lighthearted song with a catchy chorus that wouldn’t be out of place playing in fraternity house basements. The trouble is that Lil Wayne seems unwilling or unable to capture the moment, straddling the line between rap and rock while hiding behind vocal distortions and animal noises (nothing is shocking at this point in the album). "Paradice" is Lil Wayne’s "ballad," complete with an arpeggiated three-chord progression and mailed-in lyrics of childhood love lost. It’s basically a glam-rock ballad with Lil Wayne replacing Brett Michaels. "Get A Life" closes out the first half of the album with an peppy upwards-strummed guitar part and a catchy hook, but the chorus quickly ruins this breath of fresh air with Lil Wayne addressing haters, singing the inventive chorus, "I say fuck you/get a life" repeatedly through the rest of the song, effectively killing what was a good concept.
"On Fire", a combination of bass-heavy beats and a sample of Amy Holland’s "She’s On Fire," is heavily influenced both lyrically and musically by “Scarface.” Songs related to “Scarface” have grown as stale as seeing the Lions play on Thanksgiving, but this album is not a modicum of originality. The best track on the album by far is "Drop the World" thanks to featured artist Eminem’s excellent verse, and a spacey electro texture that propels the song forward. It’s unfortunate when the best moment on an album is performed by a featured artist.
The victory is short-lived, as the next track, "Runnin’,’" drags the album right back down with its hook, sung by Shannell, and the accompanying instrumentation which sounds like an overly-dramatic Evanescence song that 14-year-old girls would roll their eyes to. Lil Wayne croons, "it’s almost over now," which is one of the better things to hear on the album, for all the wrong reasons.
"One Way Trip," is a standard vanilla track despite Lil Wayne’s best verses on the album and guest appearances from Travis Barker and Kevin Rudolf. As Rudolf sings another huge chorus hook that is simply missing soul, it becomes clear that Lil Wayne’s idea of rock music is a simplistic verse with a huge hook for a chorus, repeated, then a bridge, followed by chorus and that he rarely deviates from this formula. Lil Wayne and King Crimson should never be compared, and for good reason. "Knockout" evokes shades of Avril Lavigne, and at this point, the listener is genuinely upset that the song not Lavigne’s, despite Nicki Manaj’s best impression. The album draws to a close with "The Price is Wrong," in which the lyrical deficiencies that plague the album really show, with mind numbing lyrics like "high school high school my school" and screaming the word "ok" until sticking a spoon in your eye seems like an attractive alternative. I understand that this is always the knock on Lil Wayne ("beetlejuice, beetlejuice, beetlejuice," anyone?), but in Rebirth he truly takes an inability to come up with inventive lyrics to the next level. What’s worse about "The Price is Wrong" is Lil Wayne doesn’t even have the courtesy to give us a Bob Barker or “Happy Gilmore” reference.
I genuinely feel bad writing this. Lil Wayne will always hold a special place in my heart, as Tha Carter III was the soundtrack to one of the best summers of my life. Lil Wayne should be commended for having the bravado to step outside the hip-hop genre to do something that is completely different and putting the result out there for the world to judge. That is truly one of the hardest and most dangerous things to do as an artist (see 808s and Heartbreak). There is a huge, Kim Kardashian-sized but here, however. In order to step outside of a genre into another one, an artist has to actually listen and appreciate their new genre past what is on pop radio stations. Lil Wayne’s misguided idea of what rock is made this album destined to fail from the start. I can only hope that when Lil Wayne is released from jail a year from now after serving a sentence for gun possession that he steers clear of salsa music and sticks to what he does best. And that he doesn’t find and kill me for writing this review.