Is this tour an indication that Lil Wayne will be blessing us with another rock-infused album?
In 2004, the idea of a rap crossover such as Jay-Z and Linkin Park’s Collision Course EP, had many eyes rolling– perceived as cringe-worthy, corny, and a money-grab (or possibly all three), we swallowed the music forcibly. Now, however, we live in an age where Madonna hopped on a song with Quavo (most recently, Swae Lee), rappers are collaborating with Imagine Dragons, and hip-hop artists frequently dabble in alternative genres of their choosing, to great success– creating chart confusion in the process. Not to mention, Lil Wayne is co-headlining a tour with Blink-182. At a glance, the joint tour seems like an obvious cash-in on many levels. Nostalgia plays a huge factor, as both Lil Wayne and Blink-182 are acts that peaked over a decade ago: people currently in their late 20s and early 30s likely saw both Blink-182’s boom in popularity while they were in elementary and middle school and witnessed Lil Wayne’s prolific mid-2000s run in high school. Combining the two is essentially an entire musical childhood all rolled into one— and even if you’re only a fan of one of the acts, any super-fan would buy tickets to the show regardless of who’s co-headlining.
But a more interesting take than the tour being simple nostalgia bait is that Wayne’s decision to hit the road with Blink-182 could have to do with the direction of his next album and the identity he wants to curate along with it (people who have already purchased tickets to the show were informed that they would also receive a digital copy of either Wayne or Blink-182’s forthcoming album, implying that a Wayne project is set to be released soon). The two acts announced their tour via a mashup of Lil Wayne’s “A Milli” and Blink-182’s “What’s My Age Again,” hinting that, at the very least, the shows themselves would contain more collaborations and mashups between the two (it also helps that Wayne has previously made songs with Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker).
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If you’re intent on taking a more pessimistic outlook on things, it would be easy to argue that Wayne pairing up with a pop-punk band is simply a another cash-in; a grasp at relevancy for the aging rapper in attempt to show a younger generation of fans that he’s at the tip of the punk/emo trend that’s seen a surge in popularity in hip-hop over the last few years. Of course, if you remember Rebirth, you’d remember that Wayne was actually ahead of this trend by about six years or so, and the joint tour (as well as his recent posthumous collaborations with XXXtentacion) show a renewed interest in taking a more punk approach to his image and sound. But, in remembering Rebirth, you also probably remember that it was universally panned by critics and fans alike, so your reaction to the possibility of Wayne returning to a more rock-infused sound for his next album is likely tepid at best.
Rebirth sounded jarring in 2010, but listening to it in 2019, it doesn’t seem too out of place in the current hip-hop landscape. Don’t get me wrong— artists have come a long way in terms of fusing rap with genres on the rock spectrum since then— but throughout the Rebirth era, Wayne helped lay the groundwork for a lot of the ways in which contemporary rappers are experimenting with genre and the image that comes along with it. “Ground Zero” has a more lo-fi, blown-out twinge to it that would later be popularized by south Florida rappers like XXXtentacion, Ski Mask the Slump God, and Lil Pump. While T-Pain and Kanye West were experimenting with autotune in a comparatively more “traditional” way, Wayne was using it to help stretch his vocals to the absolute brink on songs like “Paradice,” paving the way for rappers who aren’t traditionally “good” singers like ILOVEMAKONNEN, Future, and Young Thug to spread their wings.
Beyond (and in some ways more important than) the music itself, the tour and the mashup demonstrate that Weezy wants to reinstate his image as a sort of punk rocker, something that was a big part of his transition from Tha Carter III to the Rebirth era (remember when he threw down his guitar in classic rockstar showmanship at the end of his performance at the 2011 VMAs?). Fashion is inextricably tied to music (note how much of country rap has to do with the cowboy hats and western fits), which is obviously a huge part of how musicians curate their identity as an artist. For example, while you’d be hard-pressed to to characterize much of Luv is Rage 2 as channeling punk in a musical sense, Uzi’s persona and style set him up as one of the forerunners of the punk-rap movement nonetheless.
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Let’s be clear here— Rebirth is not a very good album, and no one would blame you for being skeptical of Lil Wayne entering another punk phase. But an album can be ahead of its time or influential without necessarily succeeding as a piece of art. Still, after nearly five years of label limbo and delivering a solid conclusion to Tha Carter series that does the previous instalments justice (not to mention, you know, being one of the greatest rappers to ever live), he’s more-than earned his right to experiment. We can only hope that Weezy has learned as much from the newest generation of rappers as they’ve learned from him.