Eventually, every great artist deliberately releases an album that his fans don't want. Making that weird album and getting away with it lets a musician feel legitimate, not only by having enough money to take risks, but also having the artistic legs to take a leap and land on solid ground. With Rebirth , Lil Wayne now hopes to embrace the furthest reaches of his imagination and show us all that he’s capable of, but while it’s safe to say that his career will continue to thrive, it will happen in spite of this mistake and not because of it.
Wayne telegraphed his desire to be a Rock star long ago when he began carrying a guitar (though not really playing it) and accessorizing with wallet chains and pork pie hats. Unfortunately, much like a teenager playing in a garage band to impress a girl, Wayne seems to love the aesthetic of Rock & Roll more than the actual music. Most of Rebirth leans towards heavy Pop-Rock that’s only passable if you don’t really listen to it, and only barely then. “Da Da Da” relies on being loud more than good, and while “Prom Queen” tries to sound like it’s about something interesting, it isn’t.
Coming from a region with such a rich history of Rock and Blues, you would hope for Wayne to have a dept of knowledge on the genre that he wants us to think he cares about. Instead, radio-bait like “Knockout” is more Avril Lavigne than Robert Johnson. In his attempt to become a rocker, he’s mistakenly emulated the worst of the genre instead of digging a little bit deeper into something with a real soul. His omnipresent Auto-Tune filter is still front and center, and while you could argue that it has its place in his usual material, here it just feels like more evidence that hasn’t put any thought into what he’s doing.
On a positive(ish) note, Wayne does commit to his concept. This isn't just a Hip-hop record with a lot of guitars—the songs are written, composed and performed as straight-faced Rock. “Knockout“ or “Get a Life“ sound exactly like any number of Top 40 bands, and while he occasionally falls back into rapping (“Ground Zero”) he does mostly “sing.” Of course, just taking an idea seriously doesn't make it good—someone important to Lil Wayne should have cared enough to tell him “no.”
When Kanye West or Andre 3000 took their breaks from rapping, they did so to create something unique and cared-for. Their sincerity and artistry was strong enough to give value to their impulses, even if some fans didn’t understand them. Rebirth, on the other hand, is mired in trying to prove a point that no one was questioning to begin with. After the last three years, Lil Wayne can do whatever the hell he wants. “Can” and “should,” however, are two very different things.