Backstories as part of music criticism, especially in the case of an artistic icon, are often wholly unnecessary. But in order to frame the release of Free Weezy in its proper context, one must look to the past. On a personal quest to become the best rapper alive, Lil Wayne escorted the world into a metaphorical house named after his surname — “Tha Carter.” Coupling unprecedented stamina on the mic, a voice literally cracking with emotional gravity, and an inherent desire to prove, Wayne chaperoned listeners through all the crevices of his inner world, and subsequently rose atop the mainstream ranks. His unquenchable ambition even spilled over into a plethora of critically acclaimed mixtapes. Even in 2005, when Louisiana underwent the turmoil of Hurricane Katrina and the Hip Hop game became flooded itself with Wayne clones, he raised the stakes even further with Tha Carter II, and achieved a scintillating three-peat with Tha Carter III. By 2009, the house he had worked so diligently to build became unable to house his colossal appetite, and the ceilings were deservedly removed.

But whereas the first Carter albums were pervaded by a desire to be legendary, once he ventured into the pit for his eight month bid at Rikers, a voice once bursting with intensity and magnetism slowly became drowned in auto-tune and purple elixirs. Wayne’s DIY artistic renovation too often led to syrupy, uninspired ventures, even though his premium talent produced fleeting moments of genius. His spiritless Tha Carter IV was a hollowed out museum with plastic on the couches; related in name only to the hypnotic music that inspired a legion of rappers currently dominating the airwaves. But in light of his unceremonious split with Birdman, positioning him once again as an artist longing to prove, the logical expectation that his first studio release be guided by the lifeblood that sculpted his most ingenious moments is not a flight of fancy. Meant to symbolize not only his split with Cash Money but the creative unshackling of an undisputed legend, Free Weezy is not the monumental testament the world had hoped for.

The album commences with “Glory,” a hoodwinking lyrical onslaught that surpasses the majority of the content to follow. We briefly witness the demonic intensity that infused past classics like “BM Jr” and “Tha Mobb.” He teams up with frequent collaborator Kane Beats “He’s Dead” for an inflamed eulogy to the “Cash Money Weezy” on an appropriately funereal-sounding instrumental. Supplementing these snapshots of the artist’s true form is the somewhat muted, harmonious lyricism on the instantly catchy “London Roads,” and the predominantly impassioned essence of the finale “Pick Up Your Heart.” Notwithstanding these heights, the bulk of the album is rooted in an artistic pitfall Wayne has managed to avoid for the majority of his career. In a word, it feels contrived.

Throughout Free Weezy, Wayne is merely drawing in the spaces on a coloring book rather than in unique hues. The most sublime moments of Wayne’s career were impregnated by a voracious flow, often exhausting his vocal chords in lyrical acrobatics that struck the casual invective “inauthentic” from the most hardened detractor’s vocabulary. Even his leisurely cadence on “Shoot Me Down” was marked by an unequivocal passion. But with an amateurish instrumental and flimsy rhymes, “I’m That Nigga” runs rampant in all the wrong ways until HoodyBaby provides a brief respite. Enlisting Bibi Bourelly on the chorus, “Without You” is even more cataclysmic, with Wayne’s bars lacking any semblance of fervor despite the austere nature of the remorseful topic.

Breakneck drum cadences and indefatigable vocals are usually prime indicators of a memorable Wayne release, but his directionless bars ultimately blemish his spasmodic instances of lyrical finesse, and the sparse presence of Euro’s high octane flow doesn’t usher anything in the way of deliverance. Historically animated when he rhymes alongside other esteemed emcees, Wayne is unambitious in the presence of his guests.

Instead of posturing himself as an insatiable force with his back against the wall and tapping into his phenomenal well of creativity, Wayne rests on his laurels, unfortunately comfortable with the knowledge of the inevitable groundswell of radio enthusiasm and the undying support of his legions of fans. While he stated previously of Tha Carter V’s intended release that he had poured all of his creative resources into the project, one can only hope that Free Weezy is a dim holdover for more luminous releases on the horizon. If not, the sober-minded fan must pray that the vault will be lifted, and Tha Carter V will contain the remnants of the ingenious house that Wayne built long ago.