We have to talk about historical perspective when we’re talking about mixtapes, and we have Lil Wayne to thank and to blame for that. Lil Wayne wasn’t the only one releasing great mixtapes during his mid-’00s monster run, and he wasn’t even the only one who was releasing mixtapes that were arguably better than his albums. Clipse, after all, were out there. But Wayne was so prolific, and so brilliant, for so long, that he basically rearranged the entire idea of what a mixtape could be. Before, say, the first Dedication tape, mixtapes were fun curios, ways to hear good rappers before they were ready to put out albums. Wayne himself was a fun curio, too. I still remember the look I gave my mixtape guy when he told me I should buy Dedication. (We used to have mixtape guys once upon a time.) He’d sold me a shitty tape of Murder Inc. B-teamers the week before, probably because he had too many that he couldn’t unload, and I was sure he just wanted my $5. But on that tape, and over the next few years, we heard Wayne make leap after leap and go from human to immortal. I was just hitting my stride as a music critic around the time that historic run was hitting its peak, and I cannot possibly overstate how exciting it was to hear and write about these things as they came out, a few months apart, each better than the last. Usually, you only know a historical moment when it’s over. But if you were paying attention then, it was obvious: This guy was on an all-time run, and we were privileged just to hear it. Things have happened in Wayne’s life in the years since: The world-conquering crossover stardom, the jail term, the awful rock album, the skateboarding fixation, the artistic decline, the rises of Drake and Nicki Minaj and Young Thug and a million others, the falling-out with Cash Money. But even after all that, that old run makes it hard to hear a pretty-good Lil Wayne mixtape as nothing other than a pretty-good Lil Wayne mixtape. But Lil Wayne has just given us a pretty good mixtape, and we should probably talk about it.
Sorry 4 The Wait 2 is a pretty good mixtape. It’s a sequel to another pretty good mixtape, one that Wayne released back in 2011, when he was trying to get his shit together to release Tha Carter IV. That tape, despite its pretty-goodness, seemed like something of an anachronism. During an era when mixtape stars like Gucci Mane had changed the game and conditioned audiences to expect mixtapes to function as entire new albums, with all-new songs, Wayne was still doing his mid-’00s thing and freestyling over other people’s beats. Other people’s beats used to be the canvas for Wayne’s masterpieces. This is a man who took an undistinguished Mike Jones album track and made an undisputed classic out of it. That Wayne is gone, and yet pieces of it remain tantalizingly close. After all, Wayne is still rapping over other people’s beats on Sorry 4 The Wait 2. But these days, he isn’t altering those songs forever. He isn’t obliterating the originals, making them obsolete. He’s just leaving his stamp on them. That’s a difference.
Wayne’s ear is still strong, and he’s actually trying as a rapper these days. He’s having fun. He’s engaged. He usually isn’t straight-up replicating the original rappers’ cadences, but he’s playing around with them, shouting where the other rappers mumbled or mumbling where they shouted, lurching into half-asleep singsongs were he could’ve belted things out. In a way, the tape functions as proof that Wayne is still alive. Instead of holding up a current newspaper for a kidnapper’s camera, he’s going in over OT Genasis’ “CoCo.” And that’s fun! It’s fun to hear that legendary voice tackling Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Nigga” even if he never says anything more memorable than “Shorty like the way that you floss out / Till I shoot you in the head, now she grossed out.” On the other hand, he never says anything more memorable than that. Back in his halcyon days, Wayne would sound like you were hearing him in the middle of an all-day rapping binge, when these incredible turns of phrase would just come to him. He’d just spit them out and then forget them before moving to the next absurd drug-daze metaphor. He still comes up with some of those great throwaway lines: “Been a turd in the streets since my curtains were sheets,” “I fuck her on the balcony, we watch the moon eclipse.” But to get to those gems, you have to get through a whole lot of “suck a nigga dick for a iPhone 6″ moments. The quality control just isn’t there. Eight or 10 years ago, Wayne either wasn’t making bullshit songs or he was smart enough to keep us from ever hearing them. These days, he’ll use iLoveMakonnen’s “Tuesday” for some nonsense like “Alphabet,” a sub-Too $hort A-to-Z of women he’s fucking. That song is so dumb that it might cross over back to brilliant. Probably not, though. There’s a whole lot of “U is for Uma, the position assumer.” You don’t need it in your life.
Years after Wayne fell from his pinnacle, it’s still strange to hear him like this: Mortal, fallible. His version of “Drunk In Love” with Christina Milian mostly just works as a testament to Beyoncé’s value-over-replacement in the R&B realm. That’s mostly because of Milian, a perfectly capable R&B singer who will never be a world-destroyer. Still, Wayne once made it his business to embarrass Jay-Z, and he no longer sounds capable of that. All he can do is rap pretty well over other people’s beats for an hour. And that’s something. The larger context of Sorry 4 The Wait 2 is Wayne’s frustration that his label is sitting on Tha Carter V even though he’s the guy who kept Cash Money’s lights on for the better part of a decade, keeping it relevant after Juvenile and B.G. and Mannie Fresh left. The lines that are getting the most notice are the ones where he explicitly addresses his situation: “Cash Money is an army, I’m a one-man army / And if them niggas coming for me, I’m going out like Tony.” But the greater context is that Wayne still exists, that he can still get shit done. And even if the Wayne of Sorry 4 The Wait 2 can’t quite outrap Drake or even 2 Chainz when they show up, he can still get shit done.
Download Sorry 4 The Wait 2 at DatPiff.