Sorry 4 the Wait 2
Young Money Entertainment
The degree to which Lil Wayne apologizes on Sorry 4 the Wait 2, his latest free-to-download (link) mixtape effort, is mildly alarming. He does so on nearly every song, going past penitence and halfway into self-debasement. On one level, Wayne's apologia is baffling: begging forgiveness for one delayed album, when he has more than 30 releases under his belt, seems insecure at best and insincere at worst. But work ethic has been the defining factor in Wayne's success—he paved the way for a new generation of hip-hop experimentalists by bombarding his audience with music, the vast majority of it free to download. We forgave his missteps (and there were many) because he was capable of giving away work like Dedication 2 or Da Drought 3: career-definingly good records, so overwhelmingly lyrical so and gleefully innovative that they could have only existed outside of the constraints of the major-label scene.
The good news is that, with S4tW2, Wayne has little to apologize for. It is, of course, not Dedication 2 or Drought 3, but it is strong, certainly the best thing Wayne has done since 2012's underrated Dedication 4. The beats are well-selected (the majestic bombast of O.T. Genasis's CoCo, the ubiquitous-but-still-great Hot Nigga, Rae Sremmurd's No Type) and the tracklist is blessedly free of C-grade hangers-on (Drake, 2 Chainz, and old chum Mack Maine are the only guests). Its highlights include a frenetic, manic take on Future's "Shit", and the ominous "Selsun Blue". The album suffers greatly two-thirds of the way in, with a truly awful and self-indulgent version of "Drunk in Love" (featuring current love-interest Christina Millian) and a deeply unappealing go at the instrumental to OG Maco's "U Guessed It". Album closer "Dreams and Nightmares" thankfully provides some serious redemption: Wayne spits a truly excellent, four-minute, uninterrupted verse, with shots aimed very squarely at those calling him washed-up: "Hold up, wait a minute / you thought I was finished? / Shoot you in your head and then just walk off like I didn't."
Lyrically, S4tW2 never gets as thoroughly menacing nor as free-wheelingly experimental as we've heard him in the past, but his classic lyrical choices are still there: pop culture references (Nick Lachey from 98 Degrees, Katniss from The Hunger Games, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), gross-out sex lines ("let her drink too much, now her pussy taste like Smirnoff"), and absurd threats ("Riding down with the volume down, with the windows up and the choppers down / soon as we get to your block, it's the motherfucking other way around"). Yet even by the standards of his prior work, S4tw2 is at points egregiously misogynist—boasts like "she say she can be my housewife and keep my house clean / I said shut the fuck up and put this dick back in your mouth please" are cringe-inducingly cruel and mar an otherwise-consistent effort.
Wayne's primary strength as a rapper is his voice—"[he] hollers, sings, sighs, bellows, whines, croons, wheezes, coughs, stutters, shouts", as David Ramsay put it—and vocally he is in fine form. His flow has grown faster and more frantic with age, and his pecularly strangled drawl is higher-pitched than it once was. Auto-Tune, enjoying a new wave of popularity, is all over the tape, though used more as a melodic decoration on top of Wayne's raps than an aid to singing.
Besides the near-constant apologies, a dominant theme of S4tw2 is Wayne's consistent shots at Cash Money Records and Birdman, his father-figure and benefactor throughout his career. Wayne has consistently blamed Cash Money for the delay of Carter V, and he disses them on nearly every track. It's sad to see one of rap's great partnerships (though an admittedly lopsided one) come to an acrimonious end.
Wayne is the rap game's aging maestro, its Kobe Bryant, over the hill yet too defiant to simply sit back and accept being a part of the rap canon. His fingerprints are all over rap music—Young Thug's Martian noodling, Chief Keef's perpetually-stoned jeremiads, Migos's excess and surreal boasts. On "Fingers Hurting", Wayne avers that he's "gotta let them know that Lil Tunechi still Tunechi, bitch". Warts and all, he has: Sorry 4 the Wait 2 is the sound of a great rapper, though no longer an effortlessly brilliant one, putting serious effort into his craft.