Little Wayne emerged from Rikers Island late last year. Now, owing to the terms of his probation, he must lay off drugs and liquor for three years or return to prison. And, by all accounts, he's kept kosher.
And yet something doesn't quite sit right. For the man who once composed a love song to his purple drank, this is roughly the equivalent of stripping Bill Gates of his keyboard, or Wonder Woman of her bracelets.
On "6'7"," the first single since he returned (and slated for his much-anticipated upcoming album Tha Carter IV), his rapping is crisper and quicker, his voice has lost some of its raspy edge, and his lyrics are obviously more considered.
But is this what we want?
Sure, musicians on drugs are romanticized, but they also quite often end up dead. I think we can all agree that a healthy Wayne beats no Wayne at all.
For the first time in a while, he nowadays seems completely focused on his craft, and his new stuff sounds pretty on-point. "6'7"" is sharp, clear and -- more often than not -- clever. "Glass half empty, half full, I'll spill ya/Try me and run into a wall, outfielder," is good. And "woman of my dreams, I don't sleep so I can't find her," is funny, too. Regardless of what you think of the song, it's clear he has actually planned out what he's going to say, rather than just spewing whatever bogus epiphanies filter into his dome.
There's also evidence he's no longer such a colossal prick. Fat Joe has said he's funnier these days, and Nicki Minaj insists he's nicer. Wayne's days of megalomania seem to be over.
Like all great artists eventually need to do, he's ready to evolve.
No: Sober Wayne Sucks Balls
Um, has anyone actually listened to the lyrics on "6'7"? "Real G's move in silence like lasagna?" C'mon. It takes like two weeks to understand what he's talking about, and then you realize that the "g" is not actually silent in the word "lasagna."
In the old days, even when Wayne spoke gibberish, at least it was amusing gibberish. At their best, Wayne's ramblings were transcendent. If lines like "Touch and I will bust your medulla/That's a bullet hole, it is not a tumor" are not downright Dada, I don't know what is.
What we all love (make that "loved") about Wayne was his spontaneity, his humor and his unpredictability. These characteristics seem to have gone down the drain, along with his stash.
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With Wayne off the sauce, there's every reason to think that his new, polished material will not live up to his previous, gloriously unhinged work. Tha Carter IV could be filled with fresh flows, precise rhymes and the best rapping of Wayne's career.Ben Westhoff is the author of Dirty South: OutKast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop, out now on Chicago Review Press.