“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.