Sunday's MTV VMA telecast was bookended by two of the biggest, and flightiest, talents in current popular music: Lady Gaga and Lil Wayne. Per usual, they both delivered performances that left everyone water-coolering. Gags did an interminable Vinnie Barbarino drag bit; Lil Wayne dropped more f-bombs than a Scarface marathon.
The big difference, though, is that Gaga revealed herself to be a con artist running out of ideas. Lil Wayne, however, was authentic and authentically bonkers. He made Kanye West look like Al Gore and proved, for better or worse, incapable of faking it.
Lil Wayne released his new album, Tha Carter IV, right after the MTV gig, and just like the 28-year-old New Orleans native himself, his new LP is all over the place. The froggy-voiced rhymer is an ambitious man (see last year's Rebirth "rock" misfire) more interested in becoming the next Prince than the next Jay-Z. Hot single How to Love, a shockingly tender ballad, and the explicitly whipsmart Abortion are built with far more style and enthusiasm than, say, opening cut Blunt Blowin, which he could spit out in his stoner sleep, or the bedroom-nasty Up Up and Away, one of four cuts available on a deluxe version.
Fresh out of jail, Weezy is restless, not quite sure how to go about his next transformation, lazily lewd one minute (because he has to be), challenging the next (because he wants to be). Like Kanye, he's best when he crawls inside his own headspace. On the great Nightmares of the Bottom, he worries about a future when he's no longer the king of the hill. "I'm tryna keep spirit when the ghost disappear."
Alas, there are just as many moments that grate. On It's Good, he samples the Alan Parsons Project's proggy The Cask of Amontillado and then "uh-huhs" about it as if it all makes sense (it doesn't). The otherwise likable Drake shows up on his mentor's She Will, but unlike the gentle approach of How to Love, the come-ons here would make most women reach for pepper spray.
But that's the thing about the guy who calls himself Weezy F. Baby. Love him or hate him, he lets it all hang out, and although his lack of a filter can be tiresome, it can also be thrilling (see the word-spinning, Harry Belafonte-sampling smash 6 Foot 7 Foot). He often riffs on what the "F" in his nickname stands for. It's certainly not for "Fear," he says on Tha Carter IV. Rest assured it's not for "Fake," either.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.