Lil Wayne's undoing

By Allison Stewart
Tuesday, February 2, 2010; C03

Undaunted by early leaks, bad buzz or any lingering sense of artistic self-preservation, Lil Wayne has at last released "Rebirth," the least anticipated album in recent history.

"Rebirth," as you surely know by now, is Weezy's "rock" album.

And it's awful.

Profoundly, irretrievably awful. Even as some kind of ironic, post-rap performance art piece, it stinks to high heaven. Worse than how it sounds, though, is what it does: It takes the best, and certainly the most self-affirming, rapper in the world and unmoors him, reduces him to an uncertain-sounding amateur on Van Halen karaoke night. The first time you hear "Rebirth" you won't think, "Wow, Weezy sure sounds different." You'll think: "What is Lenny Kravitz doing to that terrible Korn song?"

"Rebirth" isn't a harder version of Kanye West's "808s & Heartbreak," that other heavily Auto-Tuned left turn from a rapper-turned-singer, mostly because "808s" took a passing interest in things like songwriting and melody. And it wasn't embarrassing.

"Rebirth" is very much a thing unto itself, without a reason in the world for existing, except that Wayne willed it to be so. He half-raps, half-croaks his way through these sludgy, slowed-down tracks, which bear less resemblance to rock-and-roll than Wayne, who loves the genre neither wisely nor well, might think. His influences are strange, varied and written in neon letters 10 feet high, inhaled by Weezy like they were food samples at a Costco.

Some of the disc's more obvious reference points:

The Pointer Sisters: "On Fire" starts off with a early-'80s synth-pop flourish, adds some generic hair-metal guitar, devolves from there. The gratuitous 9/11 mention doesn't help.

Van Halen: Not the "Runnin' With the Devil" years, but the Diamond-Dave-in-a-loincloth years. The band's blending of pop, metal and winking burlesque seems to have been the model throughout "Rebirth."

Korn: "Prom Queen" sounds like something the rap-rockers might have recorded after getting really stoned and listening to Led Zepplin's "Kashmir" on repeat for a few months. Actually, this is a compliment.

Mall punk: The weirdest thing about "Rebirth," except for the fact that it exists, is that it lays bare Lil Wayne's obvious love of emo-y punk pop. Not the decent, Fall Out Boy or Blink-182 (both of whom contribute members to "Rebirth") kind of emo-y punk pop, but the lesser, Sum 41 kind. Wayne yells his way through the pogo anthem "The Price Is Wrong" as gleefully as if he had just discovered the genre's existence last week, which he actually may have. Say what you will about Weezy -- he's not afraid to commit.

Evanescence: The dark, bizarre "One Way Trip" sounds like a collaboration with the Goth-happy nu-metalers, but it's also the closest thing to actual hip-hop here. This isn't counting Eminem's contribution to the bet-hedging "Drop the World," which sounds like a really satisfying, vintage Weezy mix-tape track.

Ska metal: "Get a Life" is a ranty broadside aimed at Weezy's many haters. Now that "Rebirth" has finally seen the light of day, it's a list that promises to get a whole lot longer.

Stewart is a freelance writer.

Recommended track:

"Drop the World"

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