Three years. That’s how long it’s been since Lil Wayne first mentioned plans to release Tha Carter IV, the follow-up to 2008’s best-selling Tha Carter III. But a name-drop didn’t mean an album drop, and so IV bookends a slew of specialized releases: 2009’s clique showcase We Are Young Money, 2010’s experimental-rock release Rebirth and EP-style I Am Not a Human Being. Sprinkle in a few mixtapes (Dedication 3, No Ceilings and Sorry 4 the Wait), and there have been plenty of raps but, until now, nothing to properly follow up the album that launched Lil Tunechi into superstar status.

The “Intro” is an indication of what’s to come, a stream-of-consciousness flow over a cartoonish-sounding production. Birdman Jr. follows with “Blunt Blowin,” a dynamic lyrical labor where, backed by an update of 1980s dance-pop synths, he spits innovative lines: “Times have changed, but fuck it, get a new watch/I still got the vision like a line between two dots.” The project doesn’t deviate from Mixtape Weezy until the fifth track, “Nightmares of the Bottom,” a melodic change in energy. This flows seamlessly into Tha Carter IV’s fourth and highest-charting single, the ominous, Drake-assisted standout “She Will,” marked by drawn-out, accentuated strings.

An “Interlude,” featuring Tech N9ne and Andre 3000, comes halfway through, and the unexpected Bun B, Nas, Shyne and Busta Rhymes–helmed “Outro” eventually brings the curtains to a close. Weezy appears on neither of these, but, with the same beat as “Intro,” they’re like one set—when the three cuts are merged together, they form one of the strongest posse cuts in years; when taken separately, as they appear, the songs inventively stage the album.

When Wayne and T-Pain pair up for “How to Hate,” the first of a trio of female-focused records (along with “How to Love” and “So Special”), the conceptual approach is welcome, if predictable. And herein lies the main misfortune of Tha Carter IV: Pussy, money, weed is a story that’s been told and retold, and at this moment in the superstar’s post-jail existence, the narrative is begging to expand. Lines like “I like my girl thick, not just kinda fine/Eat her ’til she cry, call that whine and dine,” which he kicks on “She Will,” are the sort of witty abstractions that persist throughout IV; they’re its strongest point, but they also hold it back. He’s saying almost nothing, but there’s almost nothing he’s not saying creatively. Maybe, as he spits on “Abortion,” it’s time to move on: “Smoking on a hallelujah, thank you, Jesus/Help me focus on the future, and not the previous.”

Even with some lack of vulnerability and risk, Tha Carter IV displays the nonsensical approach that fans have grown to love. Future and previous aside, Weezy’s present is bright. —Adam Fleischer

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