Studio LP number nine from the multi-million seller could be his UK breakthrough proper.
Mike Diver 2011
"I don’t need a watch / The time is now or never," Lil Wayne states on the opening Intro here – but he’s little left to prove, having been a domestic success from the start. The Louisiana rapper’s 1999 debut, Tha Block Is Hot, released when he was just 17, went platinum stateside. Come 2008’s Tha Carter III, he’d reached a level of commercial success completely alien to the majority of his peers – the album shifted over a million copies in its first week.
Perhaps the only success to evade him so far is that sought overseas. Tha Carter III is certified gold in the UK, but peaked at 23 on the chart, while 2010’s Rebirth landed a position lower. Why British listeners haven’t quite taken to him isn’t that much of a mystery, though – scanning the charts for rap tracks reveals a preference for artists whose mindsets revolve around material things (and that extends, largely, to our home-grown MCs). Wayne’s oddball lyrical tangents – a fantasy ER scenario where he resuscitates failing rappers here, outlandish lines about him being a Martian there – aren’t entirely in keeping with ‘bling’ culture or tales of childhood hardship (which, it should be noted, he certainly went through his share of).
But Tha Carter IV – which has been gestating since 2008, delayed by Wayne’s prison spell – makes more concessions to mainstream trends. There are repeated references to the artist’s ‘recreational’ drug habits (the title Blunt Blowin is clear enough, surely), as well as money and the temporary pleasures it can bring. And the ‘featuring’ list is impressive – among the contributors are Nas, Drake, Rick Ross, André 3000, Busta Rhymes and John Legend – though at times it’s hard to determine the influence Wayne himself has had on a track: on Interlude and Outro, for example, it’s guests who dominate.
Wayne stalled the release of this set as he didn’t want the follow-up to his most successful (commercially and critically) album to date to be a hurried affair. Consequently, he’s been able to add nods to his time behind bars – from girlfriends cheating on him while he was incarcerated (How to Hate), to laughing about how he should have taken certain measures to avoid his sentence: "If I knew I was going to jail / I would have f***ed my attorney" (Nightmares of the Bottom). He’s also ensured that Tha Carter IV is a consistent collection, tracks generally of a high standard – a high standard, but not quite up to the quality of Tha Carter III. Back then, Wayne rapped like his life depended on it, his mind awash with surreal imagery and out-there concepts; here he’s more comfortable, clearly in a happier place but suffering from a slowed creative flow as a result.
But an average Lil Wayne album still outshines the efforts of many a contemporary, and at its best – The Drake-starring slow-burner She Will; the sinister keys of President Carter; Six Foot Seven Foot’s rapid-fire rasps over a sample of calypso standard Day O ("six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch"); the next-chapter statement of intent that is Abortion – this set is a riveting listen. Only How to Love’s acoustic strums feel out of place. If you thought him too weird for your tastes previously, Tha Carter IV is the album to introduce you to the never boring world of an artist whose importance remains so significant that, should he finally collapse like the star he is, he’s likely to take half the rap game with him.