"Tha Carter IV" arrives today (Aug. 29) with gargantuan expectations that Lil Wayne  cannot match. How could he? The last installment in the New Orleans rapper's "Carter" series, "Tha Carter III," was a perfect storm of critical and commercial acclaim, riding well-constructed hits like "A Milli" and "Got Money" to become the top-selling album of 2008, and earning a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year along the way. Two years earlier, Lil Wayne was a lauded mixtape rapper still moving on from his Hot Boyz days; with "Tha Carter III," he became the biggest rapper in the world.
"Tha Carter IV" has been heavily anticipated ever since, the promised payoff after the misguided rock album "Rebirth," the odds-and-ends release "I Am Not a Human Being," and a stellar first single, "6 Foot 7 Foot," that Lil Wayne dropped after being released from prison last fall. To his credit, Lil Wayne has remained a cultural force during the album delays, touring the country on his best-selling I Am Still Music tour this year and lending his charm to recent hits by Kelly Rowland , DJ Khaled  and Drake . Two singles from "Tha Carter IV," "How To Love" and "She Will," are currently in the Top 10 of the Hot 100 -- Lil Wayne is still on the top of the world, as uneven as "Tha Carter IV" may be.
Make no mistake, "Tha Carter IV" is not a bad album, and may be more easily digested and supported by those largely unfamiliar with Weezy's antics and unaware of his previous highs (pun intended). But Lil Wayne diehards will notice the lack of gargantuan hooks, knocking beats and microphone personality that made "Tha Carter II" an unexpected breakout and "Tha Carter III" a watershed moment in mainstream hip-hop. Most frustratingly, Weezy's wordplay has taken a turn toward the pedestrian: the man who once delivered linguistic cartwheels on mixtapes like "Dedication 2" and "Da Drought 3" now delivers punchlines like "You're on the outside looking in, close the blinds/They say never say never, but fucking nevermind," with little imagination or panache. And while Weezy's strength has always been in shooting off brilliant similes instead of developing narratives, "Tha Carter IV" oddly lacks any reflection from Wayne on the hectic three years since "Tha Carter III," including his extended time in prison.
"Tha Carter IV" may suffer due to lofty expectations, but there are still plenty of highlights: "6 Foot 7 Foot" still captures the machine-gun wordspray that Lil Wayne and producer Bangladesh previously created on "A Milli," while "President Carter" samples Jimmy Carter's 1976 inauguration in a flash of genius. Meanwhile, "She Will" and "So Special" offer the quick shots of melody that colored "Carter III" standouts like "Mrs. Officer" and "Let the Beat Build." Is "Tha Carter IV" Lil Wayne's crowning achievement? Definitely not. Is it worth repeated listens? Definitely.
Which songs on "Tha Carter IV" stand up next to Lil Wayne's best work? Here's our Twitter-length track-by-track review of each song.
You be the judge: What do you think of Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter IV" album? Tweet us your own review at @billboarddotcom (using hashtag #bbwayne). The best tweets will be posted on Billboard.com in the coming days.
1. "Intro" - Weezy's back, with a slowly growing beat behind him and no chorus in sight. "Still running shit, I'm on my cardio," he spits.
2. "Blunt Blowin" - 5-minute epic, with Wayne taking things slow and sneering through the hook. The beat knocks, but Weezy still sounds too tentative.
3. "Megaman" - The intensity ratchets up with another unassisted, chorus-less track. The first 30 seconds are electric, especially the Samuel L. Jackson pun.
4. "6 Foot 7 Foot" - Still sounds fresh eight months after release, and works perfectly within the rhyme-heavy first third of the album. Corey Gunz delivers great first guest spot.
5. "Nightmares of the Bottom" - Not as dark as the title suggests, but track provides some much-needed depth and perspective. "Don't call me sir, call me survivor," Weezy shrugs.
6. "She Will" - Drake joins the party for an ode to sensory pleasures with a shimmering beat. Drizzy was an afterthought when "Carter III" came out; now, he can hold his own.
7. "How To Hate" - T-Pain  and his pitch-corrected persona flips the middle finger to a frayed relationship. It's hard to groove to something this nasty.
8. "Interlude" - Tech N9ne , Andre 3000 , same beat as "Intro"… and no Weezy? This "Carter" breather is unexpected but both veterans murder their verses. Come back to recording, Three-Stacks!
9. "John" - This re-imagining of Rick Ross ' "I'm Not a Star" suffers for being released months ago, but kicks off "Carter IV's" second half in boisterous style.
10. "Abortion" - Lil Wayne sounds absolutely giddy singing/rapping the album's biggest grower. Why shouldn't he be? He "ashed my blunt in my Grammy award"!
12. "How To Love" - Call it the "Lollipop" of this album: a totally unexpected, R&B-inflected jam in which Wayne embraces Auto-Tune. And yes, fans "Love" this one, too.
13. "President Carter" - Everything -- Infamous' delicate beat, the Jimmy Carter sample, Wayne's unsubtle declarations -- comes together on "President." A must-hear.
14. "It's Good" - Forget the Jay-Z  diss. "It's Good" is the strong posse cut that "Tha Carter IV" needed. Drake sounds particularly riled, but Lil Wayne sits atop the throne triumphantly.
- The Juice