Album Review: Lil Wayne, I Am Not A Human Being II
The world has changed since Lil Wayne was the ‘best rapper alive’. In 2008, Drake was yet to release his seminal So Far Gone mixtape. Kanye had fallen down a well of self-deprecation and was busy working on 808's & Heartbreak. Eminem was lost somewhere in his pre-Relapse pit. Rick Ross had just released Trilla, and wasn't yet a crossover superstar. Needless to say, 2008 left a lot of room for Wayne to become the greatest rapper and he did, in no small part due to a lack of competition. Ask Malcom Gladwell - timing is really everything.
That's not to say Weezy didn't work for it, though. From 2004-2008, Wayne went through a renaissance of productivity - in the midst of working on and releasing a trifecta of stellar studio albums - Tha Carter series - he worked tirelessly on features for just about every major artist on the radio and put out eight mixtapes (including Da Drought and Dedication series). When we think about Mixtape Weezy, these are the years we reminisce on. Even on albums then, Wayne was a different Wayne - he was hungry, he was versatile, he was spastic. He was so goddamn entertaining that we hung on every word and waited for every new feature, single, or mixtape, because we genuinely didn't know what would come out of him next. It was that lack of expectation that incensed our desire to hear anything new from Wayne, because after consistently proving us right that his new music would be awesome, we collectively agreed that everything he did was awesome. It was cool to think Lil Wayne was great, and so we did. After all, what was there not to like? He was funny, he was charming, he represented our sexual and id-driven desires, and was never too hung up about his image or public persona. He was just a guy who rapped awesomely and worked really hard to remind us of that - who wouldn't want to get behind that?
But again, the world’s changed since 2008. Since Wayne's mid-2000s tear, other rappers have come into the spotlight and the things listeners care about have changed too. Where we once loved to yell about bringing a Winn-Dixie grocery bag full of money to the VIP, we've embraced self-aware rappers like Kendrick Lamar, who's gifted enough to destroy a Hit-Boy knocker but smart enough to appeal to conscious minds and make us question our identities. This has never been Weezy's strong suit. If he's the molly hit, Kendrick is the pessimistic hangover. It'd be unfair and off base to say there's no room for an artist like Wayne, as depicted by the ascents of 2 Chainz, A$AP Rocky, and even Big Sean, who seldom get deeper than "contemplating suicide" - an over-wrought go-to for rappers trying to explore their emotional sides. So there is room for Wayne, but as we've seen with previous #1s struggling to maintain their relevance in a changing hip-hop scene, that space is reserved for someone who's really trying to keep their spot.
What's working against Lil Wayne the most on I Am Not a Human Being II is that Weezy just doesn't seem as invested in his own work as he once was, and the result is a generally boring album. Where Wayne was once hungry and even desperate for our love, becoming the world's most famous rapper has turned him stagnant, stale, and outdated - comparable to a Curtis-era 50 Cent. Sure, it took him longer than 50 to get here, but he's here regardless, and it's not a pretty sight.
Wayne's always been great at opening his album, and the opener here certainly sets a tone. Over some experimental improvisation by jazz pianist Eric Robert Lewis, Wayne stretches out with some rhyme calisthenics and snarls his way through the nearly 6-minute track. This is Wayne at his most innovative, going heads-up with an equally unique musician and working off one another like jazz improvisers. But unfortunately, after the promising opener, it's mostly a downhill journey, marred by analogies about what Wayne's dick is, how much he likes to eat pussy with mouths, and also how much he likes to put his dick inside pussies and mouths.
Through the course of the album, Wayne employs a motley (an understatement) crew of collaborators, from sub-par YMCMB affiliates like Gudda Gudda and Boo to his more notable team efforts with Soulja Boy and Juicy J, both of whom are arguably relevant as artists, much less so as producers. "Curtains" and "No Worries" - which we first heard over six months ago and were slightly excited by because it remotely sounded like a Mannie Fresh beat, but is really nothing more than a Lex Luger knockoff - are essentially the same song. Their main refrains are - "I swear to God I ain't nervous" and "I ain't got no worries." He could've just combined these into one song, and it would've been a pretty good club hit instead of two forgettable average album cuts. After "Worries," "Back to You" starts off as another potential highlight - if only because it's reminiscent of Carter III standout "Shoot Me Down" - but falls off the second the rock drums take over and Wayne reverts back to his "my dick is…" analogies.
One of the album's only true peaks comes on "Rich As Fuck," a banger mostly because of its sample that sounds like a warped Weeknd b-side, and 2 Chainz hook. Weezy definitely holds his own, but this is a pretty good song. We don't love Wayne for pretty good, we love Wayne for excellence. Suffice it to say if "Rich" was placed on any album or mixtape he put out in the mid-2000s, it would've been easily skippable; here, it's the repeatable "smash."
Then there's "Bitches Love Me," the Mike WiLL-produced single that needed not only Future but also Drake on its hook to make it a seeming return to form for Weezy, but the track could use more Future and more Drake, which really doesn't bode well for Wayne. Still, there are hints of Weezy the witty charmer in the song's closing refrain, as he laments, "I lost a few good bitches, met some more bad bitches." The biggest downfall of the record though, is that the album's true hit, a slowed-down "Romance," is left off the official release. It's impossible to know why Lil Wayne's camp decided not to include the track, which harkens back to his truly beautiful "Prostitute Flange" and "I'm Single" rap ballads. If nothing else, listening to it will give you an idea of what this album could have been, if Weezy knew that the world wanted to see a different side of him, and more of it.
When the first Human Being came out, there was a feeling that Wayne had just thrown together the tracks he had in the vault - and if it's true that he records on the bus, like every day, there was a lot to choose from - but somehow, despite different tones and sounds, it sounded like a cohesive project. It ebbed and flowed, and just generally worked. This one is another mix of random ideas, but thrown together with a little less care and attention to detail. Overall, listening to HBII is like seeing an ex-girlfriend who wasn't especially impressive in any way - you're excited to see her because of your familiarity, and you try to hide a muted excitement about what could transpire between the two of you, only to be let down that she hasn't grown, learned, or explored anything since you've dated. She's the same girl you knew, and what used to seem cool and novel to you just isn't anymore.
I remember shopping for albums as a child and hearing my brother tell me if three or four of the tracks on the album are good, it's worth buying. That may have been true in the mid-'90s, but alas, times have changed. In order to convince a fan to love an album nowadays, it just can't be considered "good enough", with three or four good songs. It'd be a stretch to say IANAHB2 had any more than that. — Dan Buyanovsky