Many Rap listeners are perpetually paranoid that their favorite emcees will lose touch with the hungrier side once they abandon the mixtape circuit, and Lil Wayne is often cited as an example. His Gangsta Grillz: The Dedication and The Drought mixtape series captured the hearts of fans around the world, using original productions and well-known beats as a playground for his athletic lyrical wizardry. But some fans feel that his later retail projects focused too much on radio-ready singles, and lacked the urgency and individuality showcased in his free downloads. On Gangsta Grillz: Dedication 4, Lil Wayne shows glimpses of former glory while simultaneously confirming listeners’ worst fears.

At the beginning of Dedication 4, DJ Drama proclaims that latest edition of he and Wayne’s seminal mixtape quartet “is for sport,” and Wayne lives up to the announcement for better and for worse. While Tha Carter IV seemed like YMCMB’s flagship rhymer was bored with formulaic and half-hearted lyrics, D4 sees him having fun with the random association style that built his reputation. Though he doesn’t sound as hungry to prove his spot anymore, bars like “that presidential double R, call it Ronald Reagan” and “give that bitch nigga the blues, till he’s fuckin’ navy” on the tape-opening “So Dedicated” showcase the wit that his fans fell in love with, as do his rhymes over a pair of Meek Mill records, “Burn” and “Amen.”

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In previous mixtapes, Dedication and otherwise, Wayne’s his calling card was adding original, creative flows over industry beats and making them his own. Here, his reinterpretations of hits such as “I Don’t Like” and “Mercy” come across as imitation—a weak point for an artist as unique as him. Also, the guest appearances on Dedication 4 seem to lack the conviction of Wayne’s previous tapes. J. Cole spews enjoyable bars about his adolescence on “Green Ranger,” but cameos from Lil Mouse, Jae Millz, and even established names like Nicki Minaj and Young Jeezy come up short.

Dedication 4
won’t have the iconic, game-changing longevity that the series’ first two did, but it’s still a snack-sized offering that offers glimpses of the New Orleans youngster who proclaimed himself as the “Best Rapper Alive” Regardless, seeing “Dedication” in the title will likely inspire listeners to turn up previous classics like “Cannon,” “Georgia…Bush” and “Motivation.”

DX Consensus: “EP-worthy”

Listen to Dedication 4 by Lil Wayne