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Is Rebirth by Lil Wayne the worst rap rock album of all time?

Say what you want about Lil Wayne – he's no Papa Roach

Few phrases strike more fear into the hearts of music fans than ‘rap rock’. These two words have mothers clutching their crying babies to their chests; send adults cowering for cover under torn tarpaulins; cause the sensitive to rapidly repopulate their underpants. On hearing the news that a rap rock group is coming to town the authorities immediately sound the warning sirens. It’s the genre that gave us Linkin Park, Bloodhound Gang and Papa Roach. If you say the words “Fred Durst” while holding an open carton of milk it will immediately curdle (and did you know that each time you listen to a Head P.E. song a kitten dies?). 

Ah, but you say, not all rap rock groups are bad. Take Rage Against the Machine. Take Run DMC. Take the Red Hot Chili Peppers (oh, please god, take them!) But even quality acts like Run DMC and Rage Against the Machine cannot redress the musical karmic imbalance (RHCP are not a quality act. That would be like expecting two magnums of champagne to stop a fifty-foot-tall tyre fire. 

So little wonder then that ‘worst albums of all time’ lists feature frequent contributions by the rap rock fraternity. Limp Bizkit’s New Old Songs. Crazy Town’s The Gift of the Game. Numerous efforts by Papa Roach (because sometimes even passing a turd takes effort). Really, this entire series could be populated solely by rap rock albums – assuming I could find enough strong sedatives and that L&Q would stump up for frequent convalescent trips to an exotic sanatorium (I can’t, and they won’t). 

As a result, this will be the only time I cover a rap rock record in this column. With that in mind, I’ve chosen the supposed king of the bad rap rock albums. An album that Pitchfork called “terribly unsexy” and The Guardian “ghastly” (L&Q, you’ll be surprised to hear, didn’t deign to review it). 

I’m talking of course about Lil Wayne’s LP Rebirth, his first (and only) rock album. And, since I’ve managed to get halfway through this column without actually talking about it – mainly so I could avoid having to listen to it – we’d better get started. 

For those of you who don’t know, Lil Wayne was a hip hop prodigy, who had a number one album before he was twenty and sold a million records a week in the mid 2000s. That commercial success was accompanied by critical acclaim, with many calling him the best rapper of all time. Alas, a fall followed, and these days he’s best known as being friends with Donald Trump – and in fact, he would currently be serving a ten-year prison sentence for gun crimes if the flabby former chief hadn’t pardoned him. 

Rebirth comes somewhere in the middle of this dichotomous life story. Released in 2010, it was Wayne’s attempt to fuse his love of rock with his distinctive high-pitched, word-spitting style. And that’s fair enough. But what isn’t fair, at least for the listener, is the actual album itself. Oppressively plodding, it’s so slow that by equivalent it makes Pearl Jam seem like Megadeth on uppers. It lasts just under an hour, but feels like it might be twice that length. 

And the torpidity of the tunes isn’t the only issue. Opener ‘American Star’ has more autotune than a T-Pain cover of Cher’s ‘Believe’, while ‘Paradice’ has a guitar tone that could be best described as Nickelback-meets-Dave Matthews. The one hit from the album, ‘Drop The World’, is the only song that doesn’t try to be rock, opting instead for synthy-hip hop stylings with a distorted drum beat. As a result, it’s the only good song here. 

The album does have some redeeming qualities, though – namely the lyrics. Yes, they sound silly written on the page, but Wayne’s words still have the quality of the best schoolyard insults. See “I’ma pick the world up and I’ma drop it on your fuckin’ head” from the aforementioned ‘Drop the World’ (I did warn you that they’re not as good written down). 

There’s little else worth writing about that wouldn’t be repeating myself, and so we must answer the question we always end with: is Rebirth the worst album of all time? No, it’s not. And now, thanks to his fascination with Trump-brand plastic fascism, it’s not even the worst thing he’s done in his life. In fact, it’s not even the worst rap rock album (probably it wouldn’t make the top ten of such a list, if I could bring myself to make one). 

Which means we must answer one additional question: if it’s not that bad, why is Rebirth so routinely listed as one of the worst albums of all time? It might have something to do with a regressive music industry expecting a Black rapper to ‘stay in his lane’, but it could also be due to the standards he set himself. Papa Roach never released anything that came close to Tha Carter series, so of course we judge them differently. But from Lil Wayne, we expect more… and Rebirth is definitely less.

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