May 8, 2014

061912-music-nicki-minaj-lil-wayne

Kyle Ellison ain’t got no Weezy in his Serato

Between Nicki getting back to her fire breathing best, Lil Wayne’s preparation for what he says is his final album and Drake’s intolerance of lint – Young Money is back in the conversation. This past weekend saw all three of the label’s cash money cows showcased on new material, with both Nicki’s The Pinkprint and Wayne’s Tha Carter V now looming in the middle distance. For Nicki, it’s a chance to recalibrate her position and secure longevity, while Wayne has the opportunity to remind the world he was once its ruler, sweeping years of awkward skateboard puns under the rug.

Of those two outcomes you would have to say the former is more likely. Nicki has already confirmed The Pinkprint’s rap focus, and at her best she’s still untouchable like an Avril Lavigne meet and greet. The Soulja Boy-assisted ‘Yasss Bish!!’ isn’t the best of her recent output, but it stays true to the manifesto of her latest campaign. Just as on ‘Chiraq’ and remixes for YG and Young Thug, she raps hard and direct, adding new flavors to familiar recipes to remind of us her vitality. Whether it’s over a minimal Mustard beat or menacing trap, Nicki’s shown she can sound at home while offering a flair and urgency that others can’t.

It’s been fun to keep track of Nicki’s recent verses, but they ultimately feel like the warm-up exercises that they are. As refreshing as it is to hear her energy channeled into street rap territories, the success of The Pinkprint won’t hinge on whether she can compete with kids from Chicago and Atlanta, but whether she can lead from the front as on ‘Lookin’ Ass’; Her gaze fixed ahead with guns aloft, spraying shots purposefully into the heavens.

By contrast, Wayne’s days of setting the pace are probably over, but he’s quietly having a pretty decent year. This may be damning with faint praise, but his contributions to Rick Ross’ Mastermind and Young Money’s Rise of an Empire were some of the few moments from those albums worth holding on to. Perhaps he’s finally run out of metaphors for cunnilingus, but more likely he’s just trying harder. On Rozay’s ‘Thug Cry’ he’s caught looking for a shoulder ‘cause the devil on one, the other one I’m looking over’, while ‘Moment’ has him dwelling on his sins and running from screaming inner voices – “can’t believe they’re not hoarse.” Best of the bunch though is low-key banger ‘Senile’, which among other things has Weezy finding ungodly applications for a shoehorn. He is not a humane being.

This weekend Wayne raised the curtain on Tha Carter V, and its lead single ‘Believe Me’ is a mixed bag. Boy 1da’s beat exists in exactly the same space as Started From The Bottom– an eerie dream sequence punctured by stop-start drums. The production is faultless, but disappointingly Wayne doesn’t quite own it. Most notably, he gives the first minute and a half (as well as another verse) to Drake, whose hook is infinitely less hashtag-able than the song it swipes from.

Again, Wayne’s own form is much improved and his wordplay ripples with invention even if it doesn’t quite pop the way it used to. Once upon a time Lil Wayne told us he was the best rapper alive until it became an accepted truth, but in 2014 he seems happy enough to turn in a decent feature on his own song. That’s fine for now, but if he’s looking to inspire belief again then he’ll need to do more than lean on his protégé.

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