“Triple F Life” softens a lot of those coarse edges, giving it the feel of a movie sequel aimed at drawing new fans to the franchise. Producers Luger and Southside provide the sonic kablooey, while iffy duets with Flo Rida and B.o.B. steer the proceedings toward standard radio pop.
Still, Waka consistently makes for a great action hero. His vowels come coated in a thick Georgia drawl, and his consonants make ordinary words sound bigger than they are. When he plugs up the dead air in a verse with gunfire onomatopoeia (which he does incessantly), he doesn’t use the word “pow.” Instead, he replaces the p with a b. BOW! BOW! BOW! BOW! Sounds nastier, right?
BOWs! abound on “Lurkin” and “Let Dem Guns Blam,” the album’s two grimiest offerings. But don’t try that same kind of tough talk on him. “Them tattoos and that jewelry don’t make you hard,” Waka raps on “U Ain’t Bout That Life,” brushing off the baddest of dudes. “Just because [you] rob, hit licks, got shot and locked up, I can still tell that you ain’t ’bout that life.”
Rhyme and meter are often casualties to his approach. Like Harlem rapper Juelz Santana a decade before him, he seems to relish elbowing his way out of the vocal patterns our ears are trained to anticipate. All the while, he serves as his own cheering section, constantly shouting in the background. FLEX! AY! WAKA! OKAY! FLOCKA! UH! UGH! UNNGGGH!
It only helps reinforce his image as half-menace, half-goofball. Over the anxious sputter of “Rooster in My Rari,” he brags about the bundle of cocaine stashed in his Ferrari, but in the song’s music video, he pulls into a parking lot with a rooster mascot sitting in the passenger seat.
The album has light moments, too. “I Don’t Really Care” features a bouncy refrain from R&B crooner Trey Songz, while “Round of Applause” renders a wild night at the strip club in mysteriously mellow tones. (The latter features Drake, who has apparently spent time in the District’s gentlemen’s clubs. “I’m up at Stadium in D.C., still tippin’, man,” he raps.)
That’s about as close as Waka gets to romance, but he unveils a sentimental side with a pair of title tracks that bookend the album. Reflecting on the fans, friends and family that came and went during his transition from impoverished kid to paranoid rap star, some of his musings remain immune to the laws of rhyme and rhythm: “Where y’all was when we was eating dollar menus? / So close to a homeless man picking trash / See, my friends, they was all I had / They showed me so much unconditional love, homie, real s---.”
Those are the kinds of couplets that infuriate hip-hop purists, the rhyme police and anyone who expects a semblance of proper grammar from a rap star. But the bigger question Waka raises is more vexing. Should he be the good guy or the bad guy?
“Triple F Life” doesn’t give him — or us — enough quiet time to mull that over. Instead, the credits roll, sending us stumbling out into the daylight in an adrenalized daze.
Two thumbs way up! A tour de blunt force! Four-and-a-half BOWs!
“Round of Applause,” “Rooster in My Rari,” “Lurkin”