The Power of Diminished Expectations

noceilings_cover2

“Sorry, but I don’t respect who you applauding / Little nigga flow, but his metaphors boring”

This was a pretty laughable diss of Lil Wayne by Pusha T back in Feb. 2008. Wayne was on the verge of dropping one of the biggest albums of the decade, Clipse were coming off of a pretty invisible album in the grand scheme of things, and on top of it all were themselves struggling with coming up with new metaphors for selling and cooking coke. But damn if it isn’t a shot that rings loud and true right about now.

No Ceilings has wholly dominated rap criticism Twitter since it emerged last week, and the general consensus that it represents a return of Wayne circa-Da Drought 3— probably the purest representation of his lucid genius— is, in a word, laughable. I think it’s easy to confuse the two: here’s Wayne rapping over contemporary pop rap beats without his Autotune Jason mask and largely without Gudda Gudda, Jae Millz and Mack Maine playing Kukoc, Kerr and Longley. But the Wayne on No Ceilings and the Wayne on DD3 are worlds apart.

Mainly I think people are turning a blind eye to just how lazy, formulaic and uninventive Wayne is as a rapper right now. No Ceilings is just littered with groan-worthy lines that are utterly elementary and not nearly as clever as Wayne thinks they are: “I leave the pussy micro soft like Windows Vista”; “Shake the game like the Hit Stick”; “We the motherfuckers like MILF”; “I’m fresher than a Degree stick”; “Flip your fitted cap back like Fred Durst”; “Big shit like a horse ass”. And those are all in the first four songs, and I ignored nerdy sports references that have begun to only marginally make sense. These examples I listed are sub-Bo Burnham, who I think for a teenager is a better rap satirist than most, but it makes me wonder if Wayne doesn’t even realize that he’s the joke.

And really, Wayne is leaving it at “We the motherfuckers like MILF.” He no longer bothers to construct images— there is no “I’m so motherfucking high I could eat a star”, no “top peeled back like the skin of a potato”, no “yellow, white diamonds/ call ’em cheese on them grits”. He no longer bothers to switch up his flow. He no longer throws in hilarious asides like his now famous Gremlins line that both added to his singularity and further shined light on his tastes and personality. Now he’s the co-opter, name dropping something like “Catalina Wine Mixer” and just leaving it as a placeholder, a billboard. There’s nothing as insightful, or as catchy, as “seat way back listening to Anita Baker/ riding by myself, smoking weed by the acre”. He’s no longer using the base simile as a jumping off point for a past-the-margins scribble, there’s nothing here like “Got the engine shaking like a tambourine/ With some lips like Angelin-/-a, holy God flow, I go where no other guy go”. He’s a hack punchline rapper, a mediocre stand-up comedian, reduced to the level of Fabolous and Joe Budden, still cloaking his lyrics in that raspy voice but no longer bringing any of the weird, uncontrollable and fascinating thoughts brought on by the weed that made that voice raspy in the first place. Now, he’s just a burnout, flashing moments of what he used to be (“Sheesh, gosh, osh, kosh, b-gosh/ smoking on that Bob Marley, listening to Pete Tosh” is one moment here so Drought-esque that it hits like cold water to the face), but mostly just rapping really emphatically without the brain, heart or soul that made him the world’s most compelling rapper two years ago. But since he can still ride a beat like a motherfucker and isn’t singing lullabies to syrup, everyone is either not noticing or choosing to ignore. But make no mistake, the Trojan Horse is empty.

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28 responses to “The Power of Diminished Expectations

  1. Um, exactly. And worse, he doesn’t really sell these lines. He sounds like he’s rapping his “signature flow” but from a recliner. There’s no sense of him actually going-off on these, just the facsimile of going off. I also think there’s something here about hedging his bets and how all his weed-eater, syrup-sipper nutjob persona, while getting him to the top, is now something of a liability and so he does a safer version.

  2. To be honest, I’m not sure how different his rapping here is from his rapping on Da Drought 3. He’s always dropped what would be clunkers-on-page or clunkers from any other rapper, but he manages to sell them. I like that “fresher than a Degree stick” line, too.

  3. yeah, and i mean he drops that persona when he wants to, too. his verse on the “renaissance rap” remix is one of my favorite verse of the year by anyone, and there he is really able to split the difference between being totally unique & funny (“throw your hands in the air if your pussy don’t stank”, “ever since i made it up out of middle america/ everybody wanna be on my genital area” etc) and being a ‘normal’ sounding rapper

  4. I’m gonna go back to Da Drought 3 later tonight and see if I can connect what you guys are saying, which makes a lot of sense. Is it bad that even this Weezy is still better than almost every other rapper out there?

  5. like this post, even if i can’t agree with it. bumping no ceilings had me going back to dd3 and nothing on ceilings really has the same effect. but there are still plenty of moments that had me thinking, damn wayne’s lane can be so exhilarating, just trying to follow his train of thought (e.g. the almonds-Planters-walnuts verse on “doa”). also, i think we could go back to dd3 and find plenty of examples of wayne dropping clunkers. i tend to like them in the grand context of him ripping a song for 4 mins straight, without break. and if he was still doing the “fav movie is the gremlins / ain’t got shit to do with this but i thought i should mention …” type shit, i might think it’s trying too hard to recapture that first “whoa this dude is on some other shit” feeling.

    i think his success has contributed to his laziness (so many people are going to like what he does no matter what) but i find no ceilings encouraging more than anything else. this might feed right into the point of your post but dude “rides the beats like a motherfucker” for close to 20 songs, with his intention to just throw it on a website for free. that shouldn’t give him a complete pass for the lowered bar of creativity, but i’m trying to approach this pragmatically. drought 3 felt very key to wayne’s ascension, now that he’s very clearly a top dog, we get no ceilings. no new ground broken but it’s a very fun tape with an intriguing beat selection, quick lines more clever than they’ll get credit for (“pump to your chest / i ain’t talkin’ cpr”) and even interesting chick songs not all about being the pussy monster (“throw it in the bag remix” is charmingly romantic, “single” is weirdly affecting and stoic at the same time). but maybe you’re right on the diminished expectations tip, because i’m pretty thrilled this sounds like the opposite of the rebirth leaks.

  6. I respect the fuck out of your post and to some degree I agree, but maybe I just love Wayne to much to throw no ceilings out the window completely. Sadly I think what wes is saying makes sense, he’s just too damn succeful these days and has fallen into the classic “nothing to prove”-trap. Which is maybe why at least two of the four extra songs on the “official” release are extra good, I how he takes a “yeah I’m a BIG ASS BEAT”-kind-of-Cool-n-Dre-beat and goes total bounce-pop-that-pussy over it (and dont get me wrong, I really think the beat works, it IS just as grand as it wants to be) and then there is

    Single

    nothing in your post relates to that song. In fact, it’s like nothing else on the tape, completeky in its own space. First we have the beat, that reversed loop or whatever? How the first note on every 4-or-so-bars pitch-bends? amazing. And Wayne, oh fuck me he can rap about fucking. That line about she wanting to cut his dick off? Just how he delivers “hot sex and cold wine”? I dont know any other rapper who does sex and intimacy and relationships like Wayne does, this is up there with “one night only” and his others songs like this, its not rapping-to-be-rapping like the rest off the tape its something else entirely. One of his top ten songs ever I think. I could go on.

  7. i’ll listen to “single” – i downloaded the original leak of the tape and then didn’t bother getting the 4 songs that leaked afterwards

  8. @wes

    i mean, i would def say that ‘no ceilings’ is encouraging in the sense that it’s not bad rock posing and/or willy wonka syrup and autotune BS. this post was borne out of what i perceived to be people hyping up the ‘encouraging’ signs of the tape as some sort of return to form or even a high-water mark of 09 rap or even 09 mixtape rap. i don’t hate ‘no ceilings’ by any means, but i see it as way worse than both DD3 and what wayne is still capable of doing (ie “renaissance rap” rmx & “turnin me on” both being A+ verses from 09)

  9. Personally, I’ve been bumping no ceilings since last week, and its good as hell, not great, but certainly very good. I really don’t think that this needs to be looked at in any other way than that. Is it as good as the drought 3? no. But is anything else that he (or anyone else?) has ever made as good as the drought 3, I would argue no. But I think No ceilings is better than dedication 2 (there’s some pretty bad songs on that) and about as good as Empire’s The Carter 3 Sessions. He’s probably never going to make something as good as the Drought 3, but I think that’s reasonable.

    What has happened isn’t really a problem with Lil Wayne, who has always been pretty inconsistent besides a few months in 2007. Wayne will drop a fucking clunker of a verse at the exact time he needs to do well (hello brooklyn, barry bonds), then he will drop one his best verses on a song with Ja Rule (Uh Oh). What’s happened more recently, though, is that all this inconsistency is being showcased. Because whatever half ass song with Wayne on it is instantly being leaked by whoever, there’s so much saturation that the good verses are so much harder to find. Some of my favorite songs by Wayne have come out in the last year (Yes, Ransom, Go Getta, Renaissance Rap, Told Y’all, We Be Steady Mobbin to name a few). Each of those are on seperate cd’s made by god knows who, though, and it is just a fucking pain to wade through all those godawful songs and snippets that he probably never intended to see the light of day.

    I remember first hearing the lollipop single after all those god awful the drought is over parts by the Empire, and being sure he was finished and his head had expoloded in codeine, but it became the most popular song of the year and he had an album largely full of good to great songs. The point is he’s done this kind of, what the fuck is he going to be okay thing before, and been alright.

    The other thing is that its uncool to like lil wayne now, at least for rap fans and music critics. lil wayne is my favorite rapper, and has been since 06, but man, i get embarassed telling new people this now, because everyone loves lil wayne, and its just boring and kind of shitty to be identified with that. The “story arc” now is that he’s falling off of the top now because of drugs and what have you. but i just don’t see it. Its boring to write about and discuss that oh he went from making one of the best albums of the decade to making pretty good to good raps depending on the day, but that’s all I think happened.

    Notes that don’t fit in to what I wrote-

    Watch my shoes is just great. How he ends it with ramming it, examine it, contaminant laminate is great

    I agree that DD3 has clunkers, though not as many as this.

    The pass the purp…… captain kirk line i think is infectious and great. swag sufing is my second favorite song on the tape.

    I actually thought that the osh kosh begosh line was one of his worst, because it sounds like a half hearted attempted at the yikes yeaks line from DD3 and worst, half as clever.

    Drought 3 had crazy on it, which is definitely worst than any song on No Ceilings, or really any of this rock songs either. I would listen to prom queen 5 times before I would listen to Crazy once.

  10. I think there’s some laziness in the writing here and it’s that, coupled with this three feet from the mic, not really selling it but selling it enough flow that makes “No Ceilings” a snooze-fest. I think grading Wayne’s lines for quality is tough because it’ll always hit a wall in terms of who thinks what lines are corny and what ones are great. That said, citing the verse from “Renaissance Rap” or just the sheer energy of “DD3” as Jordan did, I don’t really see how anybody could say these are even close.

    Disagree with the “not cool to like Wayne right now” thing because if anything, he’s one of the few artists who’s been consistently called out for his crappiness…

  11. The sheer energy of “DD3”? What about the sheer energy of “Wasted”? That is some infectious, rapper-on-top-of-their-game energy. When he says, “Better tell them hoes/ I GOT A MILLION FLOWS!” I want to jump out of my seat and start whooping like a big geek.

  12. True true !!!! I had high expectations for this and they were not meant, very disappointing. I think its safe to say that Wayne hit his peak with Drought 3 and Carter 2. Still at that time he really was one of the best rappers alive if not the most lucid. But these days even he has to know that he doesn’t have that same swagga he had in 05 . Peace to Wayne though . Just not feeling No Ceilings at all.

  13. label me the hardest in civilian clothes!

    i like the tape a lot. who cares if it’s not nearly as good as da drought 3? it’s still better than writing on the wall and midwestgangstaframemuzikallisticash4clunkers so i’ll mess with it until it starts to feel stale tomorrow

    i like some of the nerdy sports references. “vince young..suicide doors” garners a giggle every time.

  14. yeah but almost every single example you gave from drought 3 (in yr last graff) was from the “upgrade u” freestyle. which is close to a perfect track as at gets, but yo it neuters yr argument.

  15. “i like the tape a lot. who cares if it’s not nearly as good as da drought 3? it’s still better than writing on the wall and midwestgangstaframemuzikallisticash4clunkers so i’ll mess with it until it starts to feel stale tomorrow”

    those are full albums w/ all new beats. bad comparison

  16. yeah i cited “upgrade u” a lot cuz i know those lines off the top of my head but the second disc of D3 has exponentially more quotables, genuinely funny jokes & twisty flows than ‘no ceilings’ i just didn’t feel like listening back when i was writing this post (blogging!). like

    george gervin im’a get my chill on
    i’m cold yeah i get my buffalo bill on
    beat up ya block yeah i get my emmitt till on
    in the new edition yeah i get my johnny gill on
    keep a shotgun yeah i get my jason will on
    fuck it swizz i’m still gone
    black entertainment yeah i get my stephen hill on
    only talk to models yeah i get my seal on
    make that chick rock yeah i get my emil on
    Two girls let em get they pill on
    let em get they feel on i get my tip drill on

    is obv formulaic but it’s for a reason & it allows him to tell some funny & creative jokes and finish it off with a great punchline. he’s either lazier now or he ran out of jokes (or fried his brain <- i vote 4 this)

  17. I’m not gonna jump into the controversy, but does anyone else think the mixing was weird on No Ceilings? His voice sounds like they used diff mics/equipment than normal. I think that mighta been a big thing w/ the energy of his performance.

    I might be wrong here…

  18. the sound was more hi-fi than i wanted it to be. i think the almighty croak benefits a lot from the shanty sound.

    david can i get some comparison credence back if i explain that i had only heard 3 or 4 of the beats on no ceilings before listening to wayne’s versions and don’t give any semblance of a rat’s butt how rappers come by the beats atop which they rap?

    writing on the wall’s cool (and has fewer ghey beats) but i’ve bumped the upper echelons of sans ceilings songs a lot more based on wayne’s lyrics and tastefully varied delivery trumping, in my mind, even the most capable of contemporary paint-by-numbers placeholders

  19. Pingback: Booned — Blog — The Power of Diminished Expectations « We Eat So Many Shrimp

  20. I will say that there’s something almost “Lemonade is a popular drink and it still is”-esque about “I ball, nigga, like Jalen Rose.” Actually, maybe the correct Gang Starr Foundation comparison there is Malachi The Nutcracker’s “It’s a wonderful world, a world of wonder.” I mean, Jalen Rose of all people. Neither someone who’s actually really good, or rather, was really good, as Rose isn’t even in the league any longer which would make the line make sense in a traditional, Jay-Z “I am like Jordan” way, nor someone who no one’s ever heard of, which would make the line mildly interesting in that random Cam sort of way. (Imagine, for instance, if he said Matt Bonner.) Instead it’s exquisitely calculated to be the most pedestrian half a bar imaginable. Other than that one line, not much on this tape interests me.

    • that’s the line that interests you most? i can’t even tell if you’re hearing the lines correctly because he didn’t pick jalen rose as a commentary on his skills.

      we are fine, nigga, like amber rose
      we ball-ed, nigga, like jalen rose

      he connects bald from amber rose to jalen rose, two people without hair, and the past tense of ball. throw in the fact that rose is now retired and balled works that way, too.

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