Lil Wayne

No Ceilings Mixtape

(Self-released; 2009)

By Colin McGowan | 16 November 2009

Lil Wayne returns like a corrupted friend from college—having joined a lousy frat, acquired a ridiculous sense of arrogance, and engaged in general douchebaggery (ahem: Auto-tune experiments)—ultimately regaining past form in erstwhile surroundings. I speak of Wayne in terms normally reserved for second selves because he is, to an embarrassing extent, that artist for me. My best friend has charted every dimple upon the visage of Conor Oberst’s oeuvre, my ex-roommate was always listening to Springsteen, and I know a handful of obsessive Beatles fans; what goes into these strange, personal relationships with artists is a sense of ownership due to a dizzying matrix of thought and consumption of their music, interviews, everything. It probably sounds preposterous, feeling a genuine affinity for high-status strangers, but any Lakers fan will tell you they will defend to the death: a) their family; b) their significant other; and c) one Kobe Bryant. And I have enough peers who completely lost their shit (like, “tears of joy”) in Grant Park during election night. Maybe it’s a comment on our society’s vices or a plangent example of a lack of intimacy in all our lives—something, something, grad school thesis—but I’m unconcerned. The rapper who has consumed more of my time and mental exertion than any family member, significant other or pretty barista has ever returned, and I just wanna talk about how fucking weird and great an event this is.

Concurrent to his swelling stature in hip hop, Wayne has been, if not deteriorating, morphing into something barely corporeal. In 2006, riding the momentum of Dedication and Tha Carter II, Weezy was perhaps the game’s most potent punchline rapper, an endless stream of shit-talking and off-the-wall pop culture references presumably culled from hours spent burning kush and brain cells in front of cable movie marathons and VH1 clip shows. His performances were reminiscent of a solid stand-up routine in which a comic bangs out a series of good-to-great one-liners without much concern for cohesion or narrative; he was, at the time, more assassin than artist.

And then came Drought 3 (2007), the point at which Wayne finally seemed able to assemble his abundant talents, allow them to congeal, by paradoxically deconstructing the mechanics of his emceeing. Weezy’s flow became more nimble with less discipline, him croaking, mumbling, squealing, and cackling his way through productions thieved from the singles of his lesser peers. He threw the kitchen sink at these beats—tossed-off puns, grotesquerie, poop jokes—and verses coalesced like glistening spit from the corner of a baby’s mouth, beautiful swaths of pure gibbering motif articulating a broad, ready, perverse grasp of the English language.

No Ceilings is Wayne’s next bold stride, not forward or backward, but inward; he ventures further into his ego like so much unexplored rainforest underbrush manifest outside through the knotted vines that adorn his skull. His now-infamous claim that he really is “It” seems more prophecy than delusion as he attacks each beat like a nymphomaniac leafing through the Kama Sutra. He is noticeably looser, perhaps on an atomic level, purging himself of everything un-Wayne in a quest more compulsive than determined to develop a distillation of himself, his music becoming an unhinged exercise in, maybe even balance between, wordplay and hubris.

It’s at once glorious and unnerving. Because what perhaps gets lost in all this hyperbole—indeed, we Martians are an insufferable, over-excitable bunch—is the reminder that a distillation of Wayne isn’t by any stretch ideal. He charms the fuck out of us, all “Young Money run this / Towns, countries / I still eat rappers / Mmm, scrumptious / My goons tote thumpers / They pump ‘em like crumpers / Anybody beat, I’m gon’ go Archie Bunkers,” and then minutes later he’s screaming all sortsa misogyny over a god-awful hook and (wretch) bouncing along to a Black Eyed Peas track. As confused and exhilarating and manic-depressive as Lil Wayne has ever been, Wayne throughout No Ceilings makes post-“Prom Queen” fears of the possibility of his performing victory laps until he reverses the Earth’s rotation seem facile. Of fucking course he’s going to sprint until his lungs gasp. This lap has giddy proclamations and Aaron Brooks metaphors.

And, let’s keep in mind, the most famous rapper on the planet just put out a free mixtape for the fuck of it. One of the oddest aspects of Wayne’s career might be that he now occupies the vacuum Jigga left in his first retirement, puzzlingly because he possesses nary an ounce of Jay’s savvy. While the elder Mr. Carter gave us this year’s most calculated, trend-hopping rap record, so smug and market-tested it felt like a giant advertisement, Young Carter’s just an hyper-competitive weirdo who takes immense amounts of glee in devouring shit he hears on the radio. He even punctuates a rendition of “D.O.A” with Jay’s condescension, undoubtedly sucking on a blunt, cackling about it later. For all his dicking around and craziness, the world seems a lot simpler place when Wayne is just crushing it.

So: the Strangest Rapper Alive is both back and so fucking gone. (If this invokes nostalgia, it’s because “Prom Queen” was so fucking terrible.) Still threatening to bend light with his solipsism, Weezy does what he does and will always do: careen around the squishy folds of his brain, ingest shitloads of intoxicants, and rap. But more than ever, his penchant for conceding to his most excessive tendencies seems at once his greatest asset and the force that will destroy him, both mortally and creatively; everything here is so amplified and severe. Wayne may no longer exist, even tangentially, to reality—he occasionally sounds wracked with the bitterness of someone who just found out the world is indeed flat—and he may soon chortle violently into that good night of lunacy and self-indulgence to which he’s always threatened to capitulate.

The trailer for what seems like a painfully candid documentary about the making of Tha Carter III popped up all over blogs this past week, and while I will dutifully consume it when the time comes, it feels at once redundant and invasive. Bereft of poetry and wit, Wayne is an egomaniac on death’s doorstep, and while that’s morbidly fascinating on its own terms, perhaps Dwayne Carter, like Michael Jackson, should forever be tethered to his music like mother to a fragile fetus…and I’m not sure which entity is which in that analogy. Others and myself editorialize because there’s so much to editorialize about, but Wayne probably hates that—he just records. All other shit is gossip.