Lil Wayne’s new album arrives preceded by controversy over a track that seems to make a barely veiled threat against rival Jay-Z. If Hova pays any mind to the schoolboy taunt at all, he can rest assured that if there’s anyone Weezy feels more contempt for than him, it’s ... every woman in the world.
No, Lil Wayne hasn’t gotten any less small-minded with “Tha Carter IV,” the long-delayed album that’s certain to be the year’s top hip-hop release. Prognosticators expect it to sell upwards of 700,000 or even 800,000 its first week (which, if you’re keeping track of the aforementioned rivalry, would be several hundred thousand more than the Jay-Z/Kanye West collaboration managed).
How does Lil Wayne earn the allegiance and allowance money of seemingly every adolescent boy in America? By being deeply talented and deeply mean-spirited. If you thought misogyny had gone out of style in rap, Wayne is here to remind you that certain memes are timeless.
“I’m so cold, I’m hypothermic,” he raps in “Nightmares,” over an vaguely Asian chord progression. “Ask your b---, she will confirm it.” When he details what he plans to do to women sexually, which he does in most of the 19 tracks, it’s usually half-clinical and half-metaphoric, half-promise and half-threat.
It’s all threat when he takes on Jay-Z and, by extension, Beyoncé in “I’m Good,” a move that seems in particularly bad taste after Sunday night’s pregnancy revelation. “Talkin’ ‘bout baby money? I got your baby money,” he teases, responding to a previous perceived dis about his relative wealth in a Jay-Z track. “Kidnap your b----, get that ‘how much you love your lady’ money.”
At times, he’s the master of the comic non sequitur, as in this couplet from the Harry Belafonte-sampling “6 Foot 7 Foot,” which moves with amusing ease from a questioning spirit to an existential crisis-quenching threesome: “So misunderstood but what’s the world without enigma/Two b----s at the same time, synchronized swimmers.”
The rhymes are frequently hilarious … in a Pesci-in-“GoodFellas” kind of way, where Weezy’s sometimes increasingly hysterical, high-pitched rasp reminds you that pointing out his funny side might be grounds for a bloodbath. “People say I’m borderline crazy, sorta, kinda,” he acknowledges in “6 Foot,” and that uniquely unhinged quality is the broadest part of his charm, such as it is.
You may laugh at the improbability of the rhyme when Weezy raps, “That AK sleep on the side of my bed/ That’s one eye closed, one eye open/Your cap get peeled like ibuprofen.” You may also chuckle, a bit more nervously, when guest star Rick Ross uses painterly terminology in promising a bloodbath: “Red on the wall, Basquiat when I paint.” (Ironically, Weezy’s is only the second hip-hop album to name-check Basquiat this month, following... Jay-Z and Kanye's, naturally, though they weren't invoking machine-gun splatter.)
Perhaps the funniest incongruity of all comes in “John,” which is named for John Lennon – but not because Wayne wants to give peace a chance. Instead, it’s because he wants to imagine even more possessions, including the suit he’ll wear in his casket: “If I die today, remember me like John Lennon/Buried in Louis, I’m talkin’ all brown linen.” It'll be the ultimate bed-in.
Taking the misogyny, misanthropy, and overweening greed of “The Carter IV” too seriously may be a fool’s mission, and there’s fun to be had in Wayne’s way with words and beats if you don’t, and if you can ignore the most cringe-worthy single entendres.
His post-prison refusal to act remotely rehabilitated on 18 out of 19 tracks makes it hard to know how to process the exception, his new single, “How to Love” -- an uncharacteristic ballad in which Lil Wayne croons (yes, croons) against an acoustic guitar for four minutes and sounds the genuinely tender and concerned romantic.
It’s either fleeting proof that the misogynist has it in him to grow up, or the best fox-sneaking-into-the-henhouse ruse ever. Fathers of America, don’t unlock your daughters just yet.