Bring it Back: Is Lil Wayne’s “SFTW2” Worth the Wait?

After the frequent delays and label drama surrounding "Carter V," Lil Wayne attempts to regain his old magic.
By    January 21, 2015

lil-wayne-enfume

Max Bell could never pass a physical.

You couldn’t escape Lil Wayne between 2005 and 2009. If you listened, you didn’t want to. His music broke Apple, shattered stock car stereos, blared from gym speakers, and soundtracked prom night grinding while confounded faculty wished for their own double cup. Even the most ardent Brother Ali fan had to admit that the codeine addled alien from Hollygrove had tapped into something. Unconscious, possibly otherworldly, and, on some level, brilliant.

Tha Carter II was the warning shot. Focused and menacing. Hollow tips and punch lines rarely missed the mark. There were more flames than on Tha Carter I, but the self-proclaimed “best rapper alive” wasn’t ready to burn bridges. Dedication 2 was the start. The shape shifting direct from Robert Louis Stevenson, the promethazine fueled transformation from merciless gangster to cackling goblin to insatiable beast to a Martian fluent in sexually explicit non-sequiturs. There were probably cries of sacrilege on the corner of Apple and Eagle at first, but that undoubtedly passed.

Anticipation and expectations for Tha Carter III mounted with each feature and iteration of the unofficial The Drought Is Over series. At a certain point, you wondered whether Wayne or Baby was uploading the leaks to DatPiff themselves. But Tha Carter III was the end of the run, tamer and more commercially salable. The hookless “A Milli” was the last act of unhinged arson.

In its aftermath Wayne temporarily lost that ineffable something. Dedication 3 should’ve stayed in the vault. The same could be said of Wayne’s post-Rikers rock ventures. But lean is a hell of a drug. So it goes that Tha Carter IV was a shell of its previous installments. Between Trukfit and failed kickflips, there were more mixtapes that didn’t live up to those in the ’05 to ’09 run. Then, in 2013, seizures landed Weezy in Cedars-Sinai.

2014 was the beginning of the bounce back. The tour with Drake and Kobe’s June tweet alerted all that it was time to start waiting for Tha Carter V. But here we are, over six months after the Mamba’s tweet, still waiting. Tha Carter V and Wayne’s “creativity” are being held between the well-worn, oft-rubbed palms of Bryan “Baby” Williams. So it goes that the release of Sorry 4 the Wait 2 feels like a consolation.

Wayne knows. He begins with an apology, but he didn’t have to. Rapping over O.T. Genesis’s “CoCo”, the antipathy towards Birdman and Cash Money is anything but veiled. It reeks of the gas and gasoline of the Wayne we knew but never understood.

After the opener, I was reminded that half the fun I had in listening to a Wayne tape was looking at the tracklist to see the beats he lifted from other artists. It’s the mixtape model he elevated and essentially ended. Most mixtapes without original beats seem lacking now. But Wayne can rap over everyone from Migos and OG Maco to Meek Mill and it doesn’t matter. The beats are his for as long as he wants to borrow them.

For evidence of the tape’s greatest heights see “Hot Nigga.” It’s been rapped over by everyone and their rapping cousin, Vine’d, Gif’d, and parodied to death. Wayne breathes new life into it with aggression and seeming ease. Maybe the “Fireman” sirens triggered something, maybe Wayne was just in rare form when he stepped into the booth that day. Free-associative references to 98 Degrees frontman Nick Lachey come before leprechauns and Pablo Escobar; heads are put on pikes whether or not the government is watching, caviar pussy is eaten. No one else moves so seamlessly between the seemingly disparate.

Reviews of the tape so far have been markedly and understandably divided. Search Sorry 4 the Wait 2 on Twitter—it’s either more fire, more trash, or more of the same. The truth is that it’s all of that. Absurd expectations have obscured the fact that Wayne exceeded them all years ago. There’s nowhere left for him to go. There is a ceiling.

At best, Tha Carter V will contain flashes of what made him great in the first place: head-shaking and hilarious sex metaphors, confident but half-landed similes and non-sequiturs.  They’re all here on Sorry 4 the Wait 2, you just have to look. They aren’t as original or sharp as they once were,  and it’s fair to say that Wayne may have lost the first step. But he could never go all the way back. He traded the bottomless Styrofoam goblet for a flask. It was personal, not professional. Even Kobe’s had to sit a few out. And yet Wayne delivers more punch lines in one song than your favorite major label rapper drops on an entire album. It’s the kind of marathon exercise he was built for. Nothing matters but the finish line.

Detractors will be the first to note that Wayne rips vocal tics from Young Thug on tracks like “Fingers Hurting” and “Hollyweezy.” But without Wayne, the Young Thug we know might not exist. He wouldn’t have been able to breakthrough as easily. When Wayne set things aflame in the mid-aughts he torched the creativity stifled walls of the block erected by his predecessors. He made the mental leap to the moon so Thug could take his style to the future. Even Baby knows that.

Ultimately, Sorry 4 The Wait 2 is as long as all the Wayne tapes you remember. (The auto-tune croon of “No Type” and several others could’ve been cut). But perfection isn’t the point. It never was. That’s not Weezy. That’s not why we listen. We come for the escape of sorting through the excess, the fractured and unfiltered psyche rhymed and coated in syrup. We come for the gangster, goblin, beast, and Martian willing to burn all bridges with just one blunt. This isn’t a consolation. This isn’t what we’ve been waiting for. It was never going to be.

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