I Might Be Wrong: Long live the mix tapeBy Colin St. John | August 31st, 2011 | 1 Comment »
Lil Wayne, it should be said, is the godfather of the modern mix tape. His “Drought” and “Dedication” series brought a wide audience into the free album/borrowed beats fold. (For my, ahem, young money, 2007’s “Da Drought 3” is one of the best hip-hop records — of any stripe — of the decade.) But, his recent studio album output has been an overwhelming disappointment. Last year’s “Rebirth” was just plain awful and “I Am Not a Human Being” was no blue ribbon effort, either. You have to go back to 2008’s “Tha Carter III” to catch his large-scale brilliance on songs like “A Milli” and “Mr. Carter.”
So, what of “Tha Carter IV,” released this week? It’s not bad, but, dammit, it’s not great, either. Oddly, the “Intro,” “Interlude” and “Outro” feature some of the best rhyming on the record and Wayne only appears on the first of the bunch. (Tech N9ne, quite surprisingly, kills it on “Interlude” and Bun B and Nas are particularly enthralling on “Outro.”) Surely, a couple of other songs are solid, including “Megaman” and “John,” which features some nice verses from Rick Ross (who appeared with Weezy last night at Comfort Dental). Still, it lacks the overall brilliance we have come to expect from Lil Wayne; something that came through first on his mix tapes.
And it doesn’t stop with him. The new Das Racist studio debut, “Relax,” which comes out next month, is toothless when compared with its brilliant mix tapes from last year. The group is still one of the best in the game, but the most exciting right now might just be Big K.R.I.T. Why? Because he has released two brilliant mix tapes, and he’s done it this year.
“Return of 4Eva,” released in March, is a groovy, catchy sprawl from the Mississippi rapper and this month’s “Last King 2: God’s Machine” is nearly as good (download it here). Both exhibit the kind of punchy bounce of the South. UGK’s influence is all-around — Bun B kills it on no less than three Last King tracks — but K.R.I.T. is having more fun, whether rapping about rotating his tires or getting high.
The news that he is prepping his major-label debut is, frankly, disappointing. It just seems impossible that it could be as good as the last two tapes. Why? There’s no sweeping generalization to fully explain some of the post-mix-tape doldrums but it might be boiled down to a lack of freedom. On a free mix tape, a rapper can borrow beats, enlist guests of their choice and, really, do whatever they want. Once the suits enter the room, something is lost. In that way, the mix tape has to be considered the major leagues, these days. It’s no secret that record labels have been screwed for years; the rise of the inspired mixtape is just another–excuse me, Eminem–nail in the coffin.