What did the lyrics “Cause I’ll serve anyone like a blind waiter”, “My words keep going like a teleprompter” and “I love to hit it backwards; call it Pig Latin” all have in common? Aside from being surprisingly accurate similes, they were lines from Lil Wayne’s 2009 mixtape No Ceilings. If one haven’t heard the tape in a while or maybe have never heard it at all, it can be easily summed up as ‘Lil Wayne performing at his very best’.
That was released however back in 2009 when Wayne was still at the semi-peak of his creative career. After the release of Tha Carter 3 in mid-2008 and before the release of Rebirth *sigh* in early 2010, Wayne hit another streak of genius. This genius came in the form of mixtapes Dedication 3 and No Ceilings; the latter being the more monumental. It was an utter punchline-fest slapped over other artists’ beats. 21 tracks filled top to bottom with knockout punchlines, sporadic flows, clever similes, wild metaphors and some of the sharpest wordplay.
Now he’s back with No Ceilings 2 – a mixtape that would usually serve as a life jacket in the sea of uncertainty that is Wayne’s music but unfortunately, times have changed. There was a time when Wayne could hop on anyone’s beat and rap so well that one starts to much prefer his version to the original. The outshining was actually so bad that rappers would dread the day they saw their instrumental on the tracklist of one of Wayne’s mixtapes.
Fortunately for other rappers but unfortunately for Wayne, that is hardly the case this time around. No Ceilings 2 may not be the worst project Wayne has ever dropped, but it severely lacks any of that cutthroat instinct that we heard on its previous instalment – or any of his “jacking for beats” mixtapes for that matter. This is particularly sad because rapping over other people’s beats is when he has proven time and time again that he can still rap at a very high level. Nevertheless, No Ceilings 2 hits some hurdles.
First things first, the mixtape is overwhelmingly long. Running a whopping 24 songs deep, the tape loses steam pretty much after track 9. Perhaps a better idea would have been picking the strongest 10 or 12 songs and releasing it that way – but we all know short projects aren’t usually Wayne’s specialty. The tape could have been digested way easier had the run time not been over an hour and a half.
A common grievance with Wayne’s new-ish music is his reliance on auto-tune but surprisingly enough, that isn’t necessarily an issue here. Most of the beats he selected call for a fair amount of auto-tuned vocals. He is still able to deliver rapid fire flows and decently impressive rhyme patterns regardless of his digitally enhanced voice.
With that said, the beat selection might also have been the downfall to this tape. On his past mixtapes, most specifically the first No Ceilings, Wayne chose songs with very hot beats and not-so-hot lyrics. The result? A complete disregard for the original to the point where people are unsure who the song actually belongs to. On No Ceilings 2, Wayne really shot himself in the foot. Making freestyles over versions of songs like “Back 2 Back”, “The Hills”, “Hotline Bling”, “My Name Is” and just under 50% of the songs from What A Time To Be Alive is hard to do well; no matter how legendary one emcee has become. Unlike Wayne’s rendition of “Swag Surfin” on the first No Ceilings, odds are people aren’t going to forget the likes of Drake, Eminem and Future the way they already forgot Fast Life Yungstaz. Had Wayne rapped over a track like “Drill Time” or “U Guessed It”, the outcome may have been more in his favor.
Beats aside, the quality of a project like this can really be measured by the bars. The question on everybody’s mind, whenever Wayne releases a project like this, is whether or not he is spazzing at Martian levels. Unfortunately, the answer here is “no” but to quote Wayne himself, there are a “few diamonds in the rough like babies in the trash”.
“Destroyed”, his back and forth track with Euro is actually quite impressive. “I like the sweeter things/So what bitch, no needle strings/I wake up stretch my feet and wings/My life has no deleted scenes/I pop pop pop and leave the scene/Leave the scene Noczema clean/Sippin on that lean cuisine/Incredible Hulk on creatine” is only one set of memorable multi-syllabic flows that give this song strong replay value.
Even his shorter wordplay proves to be clever at times. On “Back 2 Back” he raps: “I keep the double R, me and Steve Kerr/Popping these percs like I’m on injury reserve”. Talk about a line with layers. By the same token, for every standout Wayne-like line, there are at least a handful of reaches to go along with it. Obviously it’s hard to make every line scripture worthy, but when “you used to call me on my cellphone” is replaced with “you used to call me on my jail phone” and “keep on trying to hide it but your friends know” is replaced with “let me stick my thumb up in your asshole”, maybe it’s time for some rewrites.
In all honesty, the quality of No Ceilings 2 shouldn’t really come as a total surprise to anyone. Wayne hasn’t been in top form for years and doesn’t show any real signs of stepping things up anytime soon. There are definitely some downloadable songs on the tape but for the most part, No Ceilings 2 just makes one want to go back and listen to the original over again.