In Defense Of: Lil Wayne’s rock and Kanye’s pop
Upon the release of Lil Wayne’s seventh studio album, “Rebirth,” the hip-hop community once again saw a stream of criticism over a rap icon’s departure from his roots. The record—founded on rock music but laced with rap vocals—reveals a side of Wayne we have never seen before. Over the past 13 years, Weezy has made himself into one of the rap game’s leading stars. He reached his peak with the 2008’s “Tha Carter III,” critically acclaimed as one of the finest rap albums of the decade. Thus the title of his new record, “Rebirth,” is entirely representative of the transformation Wayne’s musical style has undergone. Drum kicks take over the bass beats. Guitar strings overpower deejay production. And vocador-enhanced rock vocals drown out Wayne’s true and gritty rap lyrics. Just like that, Lil Wayne is reborn.
Ever since the release of Weezy’s first rock single, “Prom Queen,” I have heard almost nothing but poor reviews from both my friends and music critics. Everyone shouted the same ideas over and over again: “Lil Wayne needs to stick to what he’s does best,” or “Why did he try to fix what wasn’t broken?” These questions bring to mind striking comparisons between Lil Wayne’s rock record and Kanye West’s 2008 pop album, “808s and Heartbreak.” Both artists are widely considered two of the greatest rappers of the past decade. Both were at the top of their game before an extensive transformtion. And both of their albums deviated from the artist’s customary skill set that millions of fans have worshipped and revered. But most importantly, both “Rebirth” and “808” left hip-hop fans—including myself—disappointed.
But I’ve come to learn that I was wrong. It is perfectly acceptable to dislike the new musical fashions that Kanye and Wayne experimented with, but it is not acceptable to dislike them for doing so. I realized that I had forgotten music’s most basic feature: its tendency to evolve. Music is about creativity and innovation. We all know that our grandparents can’t stand our hippity-hop and gangster (emphasis on the ‘r’) rap songs, and most of us rarely tune into the big bands our grandparents cherished. But we too often fail to realize the almost unavoidable possibility that we will detest our grandchildren’s musical tastes, and they will probably hate on rap music in return. This evolution is rooted in music’s central qualities: its ability to transform, to expand, and to ebb and flow. If I am a true fan of music—whether it be hip-hop, rock, pop or any other genre—then I need to respect the fact that the legacy of music depends on its nature of change.
I now realize that I can’t criticize Kanye and Lil Wayne for their musical deviations. To do so would be unfair to two of rap’s greatest artists, to music, and to the lover of music inside me. Mr. West and Weezy are only doing their job: furthering the legacy and spirit of music. I may give “Rebirth” and “808” a zero-star rating, but I certainly give them a 10 out of 10 in the props department. We hear rappers continuously focus on money and fame, but these two musical masterminds put their reputations on the line. Wayne and Kanye must have recognized that their fans might dislike their new musical form. But they also must have assumed that the fans would still appreciate the musician. So while it may kill me to listen to Lil Wayne’s rock album and Kanye West’s pop record, I will no doubt defend them to the death.