September 6, 2013 2 comments
Once upon a time, a mixtape from Lil Wayne felt like a labor of love. Some of the New Orleans-based artist’s greatest work was released for free in the midst of his ascension and even after he achieved superstar status, which made it feel that much more like an act of charity. Wayne, in his prime, was one of the most ferocious punchers of his time—landing haymaker after haymaker in such quick succession it was almost numbing. His skill set was at its most formidable when on display in the house that datpiff built, one free of label interference and commercial expectations, and Wayne more or less crafted his entire reputation around being a relentlessly brilliant and undeniably clever southern lyricist that produced high quantity, high quality work power-packed with quotables. The music, as a result, quickly became a spectacle, and Wayne continuously shared his gift with us, seemingly as a gift, driven by an obsessive pursuit of rap greatness. These days, his music is still a spectacle, but now simply as the punchline of a sad joke. He’s still making mixtapes, but what used to feel like a labor of love now feels more like plain labor, and that was never the type of crowning we had in mind.
Weezy once boasted that he was the best rapper alive, as Nas and Jay-Z and Marshall still drew breath. Yet, somehow, it seemed almost a feasible claim. He doesn’t make such claims anymore, or, at least not as vocally. How could he? These days, such declarations would be considered outlandish and unsubstantiated—even he must know this. His last several efforts should be considered mediocre at best, and those still on the bandwagon clamor for just a little taste of magic from the now broken, once heralded rap icon, often pardoning him on behalf of his past work. There are, at times, glimpses of that magic, but hackneyed clichés and genuinely terrible rapping smother such moments. Lil Wayne’s latest mixtape only serves to further drive that point home. Dedication 5, while often clumsy and half-baked, is a step forward from the rapper’s last few releases, though not by much. Despite its shining moments, however—which are brief, fleeting, and few and far between—it is still quite painful to listen to.
The 29 track offering has the same number of tracks as (arguably) Wayne’s best mixtape Da Drought 3, and has only three more cuts than the most highly acclaimed installment of the series, Dedication 2; yet, it feels like too much—it comes across as volume shooting aka a pitiful attempt to throw so many ideas out that something is bound to stick. Ironically, the project also feels like not enough at the same time. It’s a bit obvious to say Wayne’s music lacks substance these days, but Dedication 5 further compounds that issue by asphyxiating listeners with too much incoherent babble. 14 songs in, you’re gasping for air. Those unlucky enough to survive until 21 (“FuckWitMeUKnowIGotIt”) will be rewarded with profound bars like, “Had a phone in jail, that’s a cell phone.” If there were ever an appropriate time to insert a frowny face emoticon into an album review, now would be it, but I cannot in good conscience allow Lil Wayne to push the boundaries of professionalism into the same abyss where both his wit and couth currently lie. Suffice it to say that Dedication 5 is a disjointed mess—even for a mixtape—that does very little to restore Wayne’s tarnished reputation.
The first voice heard on Dedication 5 is not Lil Wayne’s but The Weeknd’s. “Everything I said I’d do I did, I’m Good,” he croons. Wayne himself does nothing except adlib the intro, but he concludes it with some fascinating perspective: “Don’t you remember? I been good.” Wayne proceeds to follow this wild statement by ruining hood anthems like Rich Homie Quan’s “Type of Way,” Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O.,” Meek Mill’s “Levels,” and Ace Hood’s “Bugatti.” Even if he was good once, he certainly isn’t now, and as Pusha T’s cryptic tweet suggested, it’s safe to say he’s lost it. Wayne commits the cardinal sin of spitting his pedestrian bars over Wu-Tang Clan’s legendary “Cream” instrumental and then for an encore he temporarily jacks Drake’s flow and rhyme scheme from “Fuckin’ Problems” to rap over “Fuckin’ Problems.” It’s all somewhat dissatisfying, and there are too many cringe-worthy bars to count. Wayne himself, at one point in time, set a high bar and it is heartbreaking how greatly he now underwhelms.
There are many Young Money names scattered throughout Dedication 5’s tracklist, but none of them are the ones listeners want to hear. And perhaps that’s by design; perhaps this is some kind of marketing ploy partially created to produce a platform for YMCMB’s underbelly. That’s cool, I guess (we can thank our lucky stars there are no Chanel West Coast features…yet). However, the fact of the matter is no one needs a full Lil Chuckee song on a Wayne tape. No one needs a Lil Chuckee song on any tape for that matter. It’s tantamount to showing up to someone else’s birthday party with a gift for yourself. It’s essentially a selfish gesture that benefits no one other than Wayne and Chuckee himself, but I digress. There are four features from Young Money newcomer, Euro, but his presence is highlighted not by his raps but on a skit in which Wayne refers to him as both “Eureka Franklin” and “Euphratti LaBelle.” Trapped within the riotous rant are the last traces of Lil Wayne’s charm; his music is all but devoid of it.
It should be noted that the tape isn’t without highlights. The Chance the Rapper-assisted “You Song,” produced by Nate Fox, is a fantastic record, but mostly because it feels like a Chance record with a Wayne feature. “Pure Columbia” serves as a rare palatable moment, housing one of the tapes best punchlines, “Just changed the face on my rollie, shout out Lil Kim.” Wayne himself shines brightest on “Started,” a freestyle over Drake’s “Started From the Bottom” that finds the rapper’s flow at its most fluid in some time. Songs like “Don’t Kill,” “New Slaves,” and “Still Got That Rock” show varying signs of promise, but, in the end, for every single solid showing there are 10 more poor ones. No one in there right mind could suggest this is anywhere near a complete record.
Dedication 5 serves only to further stunt Lil Wayne’s growth. He’s become stagnant, and his music lacks any appeal. We’ve heard everything he has to say, but that wouldn’t be so bad if he still had clever ways to say them. A former Wayne fan—like myself—can only hold onto the outside chance he’ll one day find it again, you know, that thing that once allowed him to transcend rap and reach pop megastardom. For now, though, it’s safe to say a return to form is highly unlikely. If you’re still searching for the Lil Wayne of old you’ll have to consult your iTunes library. You know, it’s kind of funny when you really think about it. Once upon a time, a mixtape from Lil Wayne was like a labor of love. Now, it’d be a labor of love for us to keep listening.