Lil' Wayne: Lights Out

Lil' Wayne: Lights Out

As the commercial histories of Death Row, Ruthless, No Limit and Bad Boy illustrate, the reigns of gangsta-rap dynasties tend to be nasty, brutish and short. The Cash Money label burst onto the scene in 1998 with Juvenile's landmark 400 Degreez and quickly established itself as gangsta rap's next dynasty, complete with a supergroup (The Hot Boys) and an in-house super-producer (Big Tymer Mannie Fresh) with a Fassbinder-like work ethic. But while Cash Money still qualifies as a huge commercial force, it's starting to show the strain of pumping out product at a superhuman pace, as evidenced by a pair of uneven solo releases. The youngest of The Hot Boys, Lil' Wayne made his debut in 1999 with Tha Block Is Hot, an album distinguished from other Cash Money releases in part by Wayne's refusal to curse. No such noble gestures are to be found on his foul-mouthed second effort, Lights Out, a gangsta-rap opus seemingly designed for the Murder Dog Magazine demographic, for whom the word "gangsta" has no pejorative connotations. True, the touching "Everything" pays teary-eyed tribute to Wayne's dead father, and "Grown Man" agonizes over adulthood's responsibilities and commitments, but for the most part, Lights Out is dedicated to the fleeting pleasures of life lived for the moment. The album's subject matter—selling drugs, shagging groupies, killing substantial portions of the dirty South—is hardly novel, but Wayne imbues his work with a sense of boyish enthusiasm that keeps matters from getting too grim, in the process capturing the visceral immediacy of Cash Money's best work. At 75+ minutes, Lights Out possesses more than its share of filler, but the undeniable appeal of Wayne's urgent delivery and Mannie Fresh's pop-savvy production suggest that the rapper has a bright future. An ex-con and former heroin addict who recorded his first album when he was only 11, Hot Boy B.G. boasts one of the most fascinating backstories in hip-hop. But little of his unique personal history makes its way onto his sixth solo album, Checkmate, an epic study in violent pathology masquerading as a hip-hop record. "The li'l dude is fascinated with guns," comments one of the Big Tymers in Checkmate's introduction, and the rest of the album more than bears out that assertion. B.G. may be best known for introducing the phrase "Bling Bling" into the cultural lexicon, but Checkmate largely eschews the cartoonish materialism so prevalent on Cash Money releases, instead favoring blood-soaked, ultra-violent lyrics that make 2Pac sound like a hip-hop Quaker. "Murder, murder, kill, kill / That's all I know," raps B.G. in a typical bit of understatement on "Gunslinger," but the ice-cold certainty in his slow, deliberate flow registers less as world-weariness than as supreme boredom, a sort of jaded, impersonal numbness. A few tracks stand out amid the oral bloodshed, most notably the prison blues of "Press One" and "Hennessy & XTC," a loopy tribute to hip-hop's new drug of choice that ranks alongside "Back That Azz Up" and "I Need A Hot Girl" as a hilariously insensitive Cash Money anthem. But such moments are rare, and after a while, B.G.'s obsession with gunplay becomes as tedious and oppressive as the Big Tymers' endless cataloguing of its massive wealth. B.G. has undoubtedly done and seen more at 19 than most people ever will, but his maddeningly monomaniacal sixth album proves that he still has some growing up to do.

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