Words by: Ernest Baker
No one talks about Rebirth. Lil' Wayne’s seventh album has essentially been swept under the rug and forgotten. I think about that a lot, and it bothers me. Shortsighted opinions and the culture that they breed has allowed for this album to be branded as a tragedy, but I disagree. Any body of work with lyrics this profound can’t be written off as subpar:
I search but never find, hurt but never cry/ I work and forever try, but I’m cursed so never mind/ And it’s worse, but better times seem further and beyond/ The top gets higher the more that I climb/
That's 'Drop The World,' the single with Eminem, which people kind of liked. Outside of that song, there’s a severe lack of awareness of the creative heights this album reaches. Rebirth is full of similar material, and records that are equally pensive and sardonic. The only tragedy is that its merit has been overlooked for so long.
I'd like to see the popular stance on Rebirth come around like it did for Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak. That album was heavily criticized upon its release, and now it seems as if the majority views it as nothing short of a classic. Fans are more receptive to Kanye’s eccentricities because of his conviction and self-awareness. Wayne’s quirks are condemned because they’re less polished, but in doing that, the point is lost.
Rebirth’s crude, aloof nature is what makes it special. The audacity of following triple platinum smash, Tha Carter III, with an experimental alternative project is commendable in itself. The album exudes an ethos that’s thoroughly punk in both mindset and execution. The sound of the record is also punk, but not the kind that’s critically revered. Wayne derives his inspiration from the pop punk canon, and thus, Rebirth is more in line with Blink 182 than The Clash. That's the strongest factor in the low public opinion of this record, but if you’re the type of person who knows that 'What’s My Age Again?' is just as much of a classic as 'London Calling,' then you should be able to appreciate Rebirth.
Those of us who are brave enough to admit to enjoying Rebirth face the argument that we’re simply contrarians. People will say that our taste is contrived. They’ll say that we’re being different just to be different, but it’s a lazy attack. I’ll never pretend that Rebirth is perfect. The 'American Star' intro is Wayne’s take on rock at its worst, but from that point forward, it's uninhibited expression, admirable risk, and content that’s more in the lineage of Wayne’s raps than the album’s reputation would suggest. Take 'Ground Zero,' for example:
Kill 'em all, die in the spirit of the war/ Thinking, “What am i being spiritual for?”/ ‘Cause ain’t no love, die while America drink your blood/ It ain't no hurricane, it ain't no flood/ This some other shit we ain't know of/ Make that money, yeah, make that money/ Then watch the government take that money/ But we gon' raise hell, motherfucker get well/ Laws get passed and economies fail/
Those lyrics possess the deftness that Wayne’s known for, but because of the angst he associates with rock, they also tread political territory that’s rare for him, and it’s refreshing. The same can be said for a lot of the humor that makes Rebirth great. 'Da Da Da' finds Wayne doing his best Prince imitation. 'Get A Life' is a middle finger to his girl’s cynical friends, over a new wave backdrop. It’s all so preposterous that it raises the entertainment value dramatically, but behind the bizarre dressing, the subject matter is poignant and relatable. On 'The Price Is Wrong', Wayne lets his guard down and taps into feelings of betrayal:
We used to be the coolest couple back in high school/ Her school, my school/ Now she going out with some nigga named Michael/ Okay, rifle/
Succinct moments like that are why a lot of the album holds up for me. On the same song, there’s existential philosophizing like, “Everybody knows that the tables turn/But what you gonna do when the tables burn?” The first single, 'Prom Queen,' garnered such a poor reaction, but I thought it was excellent. Wayne does scorned love with a clairvoyant flair, and the fact that on Rebirth he does so while attempting to sound like Green Day makes it even more amusing. That’s where my argument meets the most opposition. Most would say that even if the lyrics are insightful, the rock aesthetic he went for sounded terrible. If the influence wasn’t pop punk, it was late ‘90s rap rock, and those are two pockets of the genre that many people will never work through their prejudice against.
Last week, I was at a party and the people hosting it put on Limp Bizkit. A friend of mine had a fit, turned it off, and left after the interruption caused a minor confrontation. I get it. There’s better music they could’ve been playing, but I won’t act like 'Nookie' wasn’t incredible, either. Why do people turn their backs on songs they used to enjoy like they weren’t watching TRL 15 years ago and loving every minute of it? I'm glad that Rebirth is an homage to songs like 'Nookie', and in general, two of the most unfairly hated categories of rock, because it helps to immortalize them. For all the vitriol spewed at this record, I take solace in the fact that it’s sold nearly a million copies. Lil' Wayne’s embrace of rap rock and pop punk legitimizes them, to some degree.
I never listened to Rebirth expecting Never Mind The Bollocks, but by letting it be what it is, it came to mean just as much to me. Wayne isn’t skilled at playing guitar, but neither was Sid Vicious. In both of their cases, their intentions were authentic, their hearts were in it, and even if their time as rockers was more about display than technique, that approach has its own appeal.
Of course Wayne is at his best on tracks like 'A Milli' or 'Money On My Mind,' but it was interesting to see the wit of those records applied elsewhere. To this day, lines from 'On Fire' pop into my head whenever my girl is mad at me. When I bought a guitar, all I ever really learned how to play was the 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' riff and Wayne and Nicki Minaj’s 'Knockout', which deserves more credit for its commentary on interracial relationships, but mainly for those addictively simple power chords. Rebirth may never receive proper recognition, but whether anyone agrees with me or not, I’ll always identify with and be in a bit of awe at lyrics like these from 'Runnin':
But if I fall, I fall up, and let the clouds hug me/ And if I fall down, I bet I hit the ground running/ Bet you searched and found nothing, looking for the finish line/ Stop shortcutting, you fucking up your finish time/
Sometimes the objective of music transcends anything that a score can offer. The critics don't always get it right, but Rebirth was a great album, and a bit ahead of its time. I hope that one day everyone will realize that. If they don't? Whatever.