"Tha Carter IV" (Cash Money) is Lil Wayne's prison album. Although it contains the same sonic techniques of its predecessor, 2008's "Tha Carter III," it's darker, with unexpected bursts of sadness and stream-of-consciousness references to judges and juries, funeral homes and caskets, assassins and crooks, devils and nightmares and, as always, cheating women. The world's most prolific hip-hop star, the enigmatic, tattooed, lazy-voiced rapper spent eight months at Rikers Island on an attempted-gun-possession charge until last November; he seems to have channeled his bleak feelings into this album.
There are hits here, of course -- "She Will," co-starring Drake, is orchestral and epic, with a characteristically catchy little synth riff, and it recently reached No. 3 on the pop charts; R&B star John Legend provides a velvety counterbalance to Wayne's buzzing abrasiveness on the loping love song "So Special." And Wayne remains as ruthlessly profane and creatively poetic as ever: On "Nightmares of the Bottom," he rhymes "a star" with "tomorrow," "hypothermic" with "confirm it" and Tinker Bell with Stringer Bell.
But the tools Weezy has used so vividly throughout his career to express joyful narcissism -- droning, repetitive keyboards, Auto-Tune everywhere, calling in favors from star singers and rap contemporaries -- have a more muted quality here. "How to Hate," with T-Pain, castigates a woman for leaving; "Mirror," paying homage to Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror," declares a mirror Wayne's only friend; the march-time "6 Foot 7 Foot" matches the fast-paced anger of Eminem's "Recovery," with Wayne concluding, "Life is a ---- and death is her sister." Lil Wayne has always dabbled in this Southern, bluesy ambience; he airs it out more than ever on "Tha Carter IV."
'Tha Carter IV'
BOTTOM LINE Weezy leaves prison, channels dark thoughts, makes great rap album