Rock

Published on August 4th, 2015 | by Andy Sedlak

‘Rebirth’ – Lil Wayne [2010]

‘Rebirth’ – Lil Wayne [2010] Andy Sedlak

Summary: One of the biggest hip-hop stars in the world released a rock record and skeptics were waiting. While 'Rebirth' isn't an overly clever release, the attitude is searing.

3.5

Solid


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Released: Feb. 2, 2010  |  Length: 46:43

Producers include: Infamous, Cool & Dre, Travis Barker, Kevin Rudolf

Label: Young Money/Universal Motown

Peak Billboard Position: 2

Within a span of 15 months, Kanye West and Lil Wayne each shed the skin that made them stars.

West pulled away from hip-hop and wrapped himself up in inconsolably tripped-out R&B. Meanwhile, Lil Wayne threw himself into power-chord rock. On paper, it was an odd stretch for rap fans.

Of the two, history will primarily remember West’s 2008 cyborg manifesto 808s & Heartbreak. Debuting at Number One, West watched happily as the experimental record sold half a million copies within a week of its release. The synthy, emotional lament placed two Top 10 singles on the pop charts and sort of made emo hip-hop a thing. Drake is the most famous disciple but B.o.B., The Weeknd and other nakedly transparent artists were surely inspired.

Less than two years after West’s departure from hip-hop, Weezy too moved away from the genre with 2010’s Rebirth. Perhaps he felt ambitious after the success of Kevin Rudolf’s “Let It Rock,” a hit 2008 single in which Wayne was prominently featured. Rudolf and Wayne’s shirking of life’s bullshit racked up 4 million downloads. The video for the song showed Wayne with a Fender Jazzmaster slung low, throwing devil horns up early and often and seemingly testifying to all things “rock.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 4.05.19 PM

A still from the music video for 2008’s “Let it Rock,” perhaps the inspiration for ‘Rebirth.’

808s and Rebirth are very different albums by very different artists with extremely different creative ambitions. I compare them because their release dates were within shouting distance of one another and because Wayne and West were the two biggest hip-hop stars in the world at the time of each release. They both diverted and had earned the right. But looking back, it’s amazing to note how 808s is remembered for its art house minimalism and Rebirth isn’t remembered much at all.

“When I said I was doing a rock album, it was about doing a freedom thing,” Wayne told Billboard the year before Rebirth was released. “And rock is an avenue that gives you freedom.”

Although it debuted in the runner-up spot, Rebirth sold a fraction of West’s artistic departure (176,000 copies). His “rebirth” put up two Top 40 singles – “Prom Queen” and “Drop the World.” Unfortunately, after the monster success of 2008’s Tha Carter III – four Top 40 hits including two Top 10s and a Number One – Rebirth’s commercial output felt underwhelming.

Critics weren’t totally kind either. They never softened on Rebirth like they did with West’s 808s (it initially garnered lukewarm reviews too). Take Rolling Stone for example. The premier music magazine on the planet recently proclaimed that West’s 808s & Heartbreak has “over time served as a new template for up-and-comers in hip-hop and R&B.” Meanwhile, the magazine’s writers haven’t offered much more on Rebirth since an initial review of “a vocally challenged genius stuck in limbo.”

Lil Wayne talks about switching to rock music on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2010.

What makes Rebirth interesting in hindsight isn’t Wayne’s usual wordplay – he leaves most of the puns in his notepad – but the attitude he had. True, Weezy’s brand of rock is slightly generic. But was anyone really expecting the next Peter Gabriel? If Rudolf’s “Let It Rock” turned you on, much of Rebirth will too.

From “American Star:”
I’m loved and praised in the U.S.A.
My ancestors were slaves in the U.S.A.
But not today

“Prom Queen” reached Number 15 on the Hot 100. It worked for me in 2010 and nothing has changed. Do we pity the prom queen at the center of the dark, sludgy track? Or revel in the fact she had it coming?

From “Prom Queen:”
They loved her fancy underwear
Every boyfriend, every year
She tried to keep ‘em entertained
When they could hardly remember her name
She did everything she could just to
To make him love her and treat her good
She found herself alone
Asking where did she go wrong

The video for “Prom Queen,” the most successful single from Rebirth.

Grinders like “Ground Zero” and the album-closing “The Price is Wrong” don’t help Wayne’s cause. They’re not only painfully nonspecific, but nonsensically hostile. Ironically, Wayne loses focus on rap-heavy tracks, illustrating that Rebirth is most effective when tracks begin sparse and allow instrumentation to build around Wayne’s unique delivery.

“Da Da Da” is another clunker. It smacks of a Fall Out Boy outtake.

But if three of the album’s 12 tracks are duds, then that must mean there’s meat on the bones of the remaining nine. The call and response on the bouncy “Get A Life” underscores the autonomy Wayne was after in pursuing rock in the first place. Weezy also matches West’s 1980s inspiration on “On Fire,” which heavily samples Amy Holland’s 1983 hit “She’s On Fire.”

The Holland song was famous for its inclusion on the soundtrack to Scarface, a film celebrated by 98 percent of hip-hop’s recording pool. Wayne’s reworking is a credible tribute.

The video for “Knockout,” which features a then-mostly unknown Nicki Minaj.

Nicki Minaj’s star-making feature on Kanye West’s “Monster” was released just a few months after her guest spot on Rebirth’s “Knockout.” At the time, her inclusion on Rebirth was her highest profile guest spot since Young Money’s “Bedrock” the year before.

Other guests featured on Rebirth include Shanell, who’s featured on three tracks but most memorably on the towering “Runnin’.” You knew Kevin Rudolf would turn up somewhere, and he guests along with Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker on Rebirth’s “One Way Trip.” The most notable spot was reserved for Eminem on the aggressive king-of-the-mountain track, “Drop the World.” Before either MC raps a line, prickly synthesizers set the scene. They later punctuate the chorus.

From “Drop the World:”
I seen nights full of pain, days of the same
You keep the sunshine, save me the rain

Slim, fresh off a critical disappointment of his own in 2009’s Relapse, was already in redemption mode. The theme would be examined in full on Recovery released later that year.

The clip for the dark single “Drop the World,” which featured Wayne’s pal Eminem.

“Paradice” wasn’t released as one of Rebirth’s singles, though the combination of slow-burn verses and Wayne’s unbelievable sneer probably would have ensured radio play. It’s the record’s most unabashed rock star moment.

From “Paradice:”
Call me crazy, I’ve been called worse
It’s like I have it all, but what’s it all worth?

According to Billboard, The top mainstream rock tracks of 2010 included “Break” and “The Good Life” by Three Days Grace, “Cryin’ Like A Bitch” by Godsmack and “Nightmare” by Avenged Sevenfold. “Scream With Me” by Mudvayne, “Bad Company” by Five Finger Death Punch and Papa Roach’s “Kick in the Teeth” are further down the list but are still within the Top 20 singles of 2010.

In that context, you could almost say Wayne was the most interesting rocker of the year.

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About the Author

Andy Sedlak is a former television reporter who lives in Dayton, OH. He grew up in a household that pumped Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel every weekend. He instantly became a new man when he discovered Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” in junior high.



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