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ALBUM Review

He’s free, but his disc is forgettable

Lil Wayne’s ‘Tha Carter IV’ is too bland to live up to brand

Lil Wayne did eight months in Rikers Island on a gun charge and was released last November. Lil Wayne did eight months in Rikers Island on a gun charge and was released last November. (Gretchen Ertl for The Boston Globe)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / August 29, 2011

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No one comes out of prison the same way they went in.

Michael Vick went in another megalomaniacal millionaire athlete and came out a model of contrition and a freakishly rejuvenated quarterback. Rapper DMX goes in and out of jail like it’s a Store 24 (he was released last month and went back in last week), and he looks crazier by the mug shot.

Lil Wayne did eight months in Rikers Island on a 2007 gun charge. He got out last November. Enough time has passed to make his jail time seem like a sabbatical. He made sure it never felt like he was gone. He did freestyle rhymes over the phone. To hold his fans over, he put out a warmed-over album last year, and it was a chart topper. A month after he got out, he released “6 Foot 7 Foot,’’ running into walls trying to prove he’s as good as he was when he went in.

He got through that prison sentence “like a subject and a predicate,’’ he rapped.

But it’s not convincing, and when you listen to “Tha Carter IV,’’ his eagerly awaited new album released today, it’s evident he’s not the same person, let alone the same rapper.

“Tha Carter III’’ and the endless stream of mixtapes that helped Wayne bend the corner from rap star to rock star were great because they were unpredictable, reckless, and urgent. He’s neutered now, though. He’s running a sober tour - no drugs, no alcohol. Before he went in, he quit drinking codeine syrup, which was like Popeye cutting back on the spinach.

“C3’’ was great because despite the unbeatable hype that went into it, Wayne managed to live up to it. Its follow-up doesn’t deserve the brand name. It’s not good or bad; it’s bland and aimless, which is worse.

With “Tha Carter IV,’’ there are only traces of the playful wit that made Wayne so interesting to begin with. On “Nightmares of the Bottom,’’ he raps, “If I would have known I was going to jail/ I would have [slept with] my attorney.’’ Beyond that, though, he has reduced himself to puns, thinking it’s clever when it’s not.

“I’m all about I/ Give the rest of the vowels back.’’

“They say choose wisely/ That’s why I was chosen.’’

“When it Waynes/ It pours.’’

It’s like Dr. Seuss woke up thinking he was Confucius.

Wayne makes no attempt to be inventive. “Megaman’’ sounds like “Ransom,’’ a three-year-old throwaway that was used more to introduce the world to Drake than anything else. Drake, by the way, offers up a ridiculous hook for “She Will,’’ but the song sounds like it was split at birth with T.I.’s “Poppin Bottles.’’ “Abortion’’ has one of the album’s best hooks, which sounded just as good when Wayne previously used it for “I Know Your Name,’’ featuring the Alchemist and Travis McCoy.

Without a doubt, for all its dullness, this album will be inescapable. You’ll hear “John’’ in the club (it doesn’t sound any different from “I’m Not a Star’’). “How to Love’’ won’t be leaving the radio rotation for a while. But ubiquity won’t make it any less forgettable.

The album has two surprises, though, including “It’s Good,’’ on which Wayne takes a not-so-subtle counterpunch at Jay-Z , joking that he kidnapped the fellow rapper’s wife, Beyoncé. Meanwhile, on a song simply called “Interlude,’’ right after Tech N9ne tears through a verse at a machine-gun’s pace, Andre 3000 sneaks in and drops a carefree verse like a Christmas gift. The problem? Wayne isn’t there for the most interesting part of his own album.

Because of the jail time, “Tha Carter IV’’ feels like a comeback album when it shouldn’t. Regardless, it comes off monotonous and redundant but, more than that, uninspired. Wayne used to say he was “the best rapper alive’’ like it was a challenge. Now when he says it, it sounds like hard labor.

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.