This week, Lil Wayne released I Am Not a Human Being II, his 10th studio album. It finds him, more or less, rapping his ass off. I'm serious: I sincerely believe he's trying as hard as ever. The difference, as it's been since Rikers, is that he's just not getting there.
A few weekends ago, we thought Lil Wayne was going to die. TMZ was reporting he was in an L.A. hospital, that he had suffered multiple seizures, that he was being given his last rites; we thought he was going to die. He didn't, thank God. In his only response to the incident, a video clip released to TMZ a few days after he got out of the hospital, Wayne was oddly, disconcertingly flip about the whole thing, thanking people and grinning unconvincingly and promising that he was "more than good." And then he did what could only technically be understood as plugging his record: "Also, my bum ass album still coming out March 26 … I Am Not a Human Being II. You gon' get that sh*t if you want. If not, it's whatever."
On first view, I thought that was Wayne's cockiness, peeking out in an ugly kind of way. Take into consideration that Tha Carter IV, his last studio album and his first post-prison comeback project, sold over 3.5 million copies. And that, if current estimates hold, IANAHBII will debut atop the Billboard 200. When it comes to market share, Wayne hasn't slipped an inch.
But after a few more clicks on the TMZ clip, Wayne's indifference started to sound genuine: Maybe this terrifying health scare had muffled his bluster and forced him to face facts. And the facts are that we're now in the heart of the second transformation of Lil Wayne's unlikely career, and it's a very depressing stage. After the seizures, all that could've been chalked up as silly or dumb, bored, rich-dude indulgences — the piled-on fashion quirks, the cringe-inducing fascination with skateboarding — gave way to something starker and sadder. And that's the most important thing here: Wayne can no longer rap.
But that he went from trifle to star was the truly surprising thing. That he went from star to burned-out supernova, that one we could've predicted.