From early Run-DMC and Beastie Boys to the Jay-Z and Linkin Park mashup Collision Course, sonic fusions of rap and rock only succeed when their constitutive elements are evenly matched—more often than not, Rick Rubin seems to also be an essential ingredient. That’s part of why things like Mos Def’s The New Danger and Lil Wayne’s much-delayed disaster Rebirth are handicapped from conception: Aside from their obvious rhyming chops, these MCs’ rock bonafides are dubious and in fact non-existent. At worst, Weezy’s new rock album is worth suffering through for only one reason: the epic “Drop the World,” whose awesomeness has mostly to do with a stellar guest verse by Eminem. Otherwise, Rebirth is a largely indistinguishable mix of completely uninspired power rock songs over which Wayne mostly sings (often heavily auto-tuned), and the occasional not-awful, Gnarls Barkley-evoking pop jaunt. Aside from the disappointing hybrid compositions, the record also marks a lyrical rebirth of sorts, although “regression” might be more accurate: Wayne spends most of the album rapping and singing about high school.
Take the first single, “Prom Queen,” released over a year before the album, in which adult Wayne relishes snubbing the popular girl that he liked in school. He snarls through the lyrics, not really singing and definitely not rapping, with expressive pitch-correction distorting his voice to match the screeching electric guitars. It only works for the few seconds that build up to each of the choruses, and otherwise feels surprisingly lazy, particularly for a song that’s been pumped up to sound so big. On the second single, “On Fire,” producers Cool & Dre can’t quite make good on the Amy Holland sample, which gets lost in the track’s series of annoying starts and fits. If Rebirth is indeed about revisiting high school, this is the song about how all the kids today have ADD: Wayne goes from rhymes about the very hot object of his affections, to intimations of pyromania, praying for forgiveness and a 9/11 reference. These tracks are among the album’s least disastrous. There’s a tension between Wayne’s slow screech and the immense sonic urgency of the instrumentals that’s occasionally, fleetingly compelling.
The opening half of the record (everything after “Drop the World” is worth one listen at most) also features two decent tracks of Wayne doing his best Cee-Lo and Andre 3000 impressions. “Da Da Da” is a snappy, slightly psychedelic pop song that has Wayne singing in a heavily distorted voice for the first verse, sounding like an Auto-tuned angel on the choruses, and rapping at a quick clip for a great second verse. “Get a Life” is even more upbeat—albeit in a very spiteful way—managing an interesting and insistent middle ground between rapping and singing as Wayne confronts his girl’s trash-talking best friends. His whining voice and bouncy cadence match the impotent, juvenile aggression of the lyrics—you can almost picture the short MC screaming them down a hall lined with lockers as a clique of tall, slender silhouettes turns the corner. Of course, interspersed with tracks like the irritating “Paradice” or the vaguely Limp Bizkit-ish “Ground Zero,” it’s hard to enjoy Rebirth for more than a few minutes at a time before being abruptly reminded of the album’s overwhelming crappiness. Even compared to Wayne’s most sprawling and spotty mixtapes, there’s precious little here to salvage. And with the MC about to start a jail sentence that could last up to a year, it’s frustrating to think that we’ll have to subsist on this dissatisfying Weezy record until Tha Carter IV drops sometime after his release. On the other hand—as the angsty high schooler constantly assures himself—whatever comes next, it’ll be better than this.