Hip-hop arose from a combination of the popular genres of the late ’70s and early ’80s and has undoubtedly been influenced by rock ‘n’ roll over its lifespan, so the concept of combining hip-hop and rock ‘n’ roll is hardly a novel idea.
While there have been many isolated attempts to bridge the two genres, bands — especially throughout the ’90s — popularized a combination of the two. Rap-rock utilizes rapping over loud guitars and live drum kits. Apart from bands such as Rage Against the Machine and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, however, the rap-rock genre is often mocked or dismissed by the rest of the music community.
On Rebirth, Lil Wayne’s newest full-length studio album, however, he attempts his own version of the historically difficult relationship between rap and rock. Wayne has long toyed with the incorporation of rock elements in his music, including the integration of guitars into his songs and live act over the years.
On Rebirth, however, rock is not there to supplement the rap, it’s the main focus. Wayne trades his typical flow over beats and synths for loud guitar riffs, pounding drums and a multitude of Auto-Tuned crooning. The result is strange, which is an adjective that is not uncommon when discussing Lil Wayne.
Rebirth is considered a rock album, but the unconventional style of many songs makes it seem as if Lil Wayne doesn’t understand what contemporary rock is.
True rock fans, then, might be quick to criticize Lil Wayne’s complete lack of understanding for the genre, as the background tracks on Rebirth often sound like cheap imitations of newer, popular rock music and were undoubtedly crafted to be more easily digestible to Lil Wayne’s already established mainstream and hip-hop audience. But the interesting thing isn’t that Lil Wayne failed at making a rock album, it’s that he invented a whole new style of rock in the process.
Some might argue that Lil Wayne is only attempting to recreate the success of previous rap-rock artists or make money off of a new gimmick, it’s undeniable that Lil Wayne’s fusion of the two genres — which includes a combination of heavily Auto-Tuned singing, rapping, raspy yelping, guitar riffs, live drums and hip-hop beats — is unlike anything heard before.
This originality, however, is not necessarily a good thing. Many of the songs on the album are incredibly cheesy. For instance, “Paradice,” Lil Wayne’s attempt at a power ballad, consists of slow, pounding drums similar to Tha Carter III’s rock-influenced “Shoot Me Down,” but with less rapping and more overdramatic Auto-Tuned singing.
Lyrics such as The sun don’t shine forever, Everything that glitters ain’t gold and Love don’t love forever sound hilariously cheesy as Lil Wayne sings over a soaring background track.
The lyrics on the rest of the album are equally as disappointing. Part of Lil’ Wayne’s draw has always been his knack for effortlessly creating complex and clever lyrics, but, on Rebirth, the lyrics lack as much depth and originality as the guitar riffs on many of the songs.
On “Da Da Da,” for instance, the chorus consists solely of Lil Wayne mumbling the nonsensical title of the song over and over again, demonstrating a clear lack of lyrical complexity. During “Knockout,” a melodic pop-punk song that eerily recalls early Blink-182, Wayne sings simple, cheesy rhymes such as Are you into black men? / Hey Barbie, I could be your black Ken that do nothing other than make the listener laugh at the ridiculousness of the song. The album’s lyrical high point comes not from Lil Wayne himself, but occurs during Eminem’s guest verse at the end of the more rap-influenced “Drop the World.”
Despite the cheesy nature of the songs and the relative lack of lyrical complexity, however, Rebirth is undeniably catchy. “On Fire,” one of the album’s singles, heavily samples a song from the Scarface soundtrack and, upon first listen, sounds like a disposable ’80s popular rock song. The track, much like many of the other songs on the album, has an uncanny ability to be stuck in the listener’s head for hours.
The same is true for “One Way Trip,” a song featuring Kevin Rudolf and Travis Barker, two other artists that have a history of combining and collaborating with both rock and rap musicians. The song has a star-studded line-up filled with talented musicians but ultimately lacks any exciting display of that talent. Still, like “On Fire,” the song has a catchy hook and is somewhat memorable.
Thus, Rebirth is not entirely a failure. The songs may not truly grasp the essence of rock ‘n’ roll music or allow Lil’ Wayne to fully demonstrate his lyrical ability, but they are still unique, original and somewhat catchy. As a one-time experiment with the rock genre, Rebirth works. But true Lil Wayne fans should only hope that Weezy drops the guitar, listens to his peer Jay-Z’s advice and stops using Auto-Tune, and returns to rapping on his next album.