Three days after releasing Innervisions, Stevie Wonder got in a car accident. While Wonder was traveling back from a North Carolina gig with a friend at the wheel, a trucker slammed the brakes on a winding road, sending Stevie’s car straight into the flatbed’s pile of chopped wood, shooting a stray log straight through the windshield and into Stevie’s forehead. The accident left him with bruises, a brain contusion and a multi-day coma. He lost his sense of smell. Gradually recovering, with his musical talent miraculously intact, his colleagues alleged that something had “changed” about Stevie. With Innervisions, the American public took the story and ran with it. Spiritually and musically, Innervisions was Stevie’s defining moment … but it was recorded months before the accident.
I Am Not a Human Being
Lil Wayne’s I Am Not a Human Being has that Innervisions mystique. Released during his jail stint for criminal possession of a firearm, I Am Not a Human Being can be the magical release Wayne-heads want. His imprisonment is the longest period of time Wayne hasn’t spent in the studio, which, for an artist so prolific, is about as creatively hampering as a brain contusion. On his humble “Weezy Thanx You” website, Wayne has been responding personally to fan letters and describing his daily routine, full of exercise and bible reading. And now, less than a month before his release from Rikers Island, we have our legend — and an album that betrays it.
Truth is, I Am Not a Human Being is a collection of old tracks. Some post-Tha Carter III and Rebirth and a few whetting, supposed Tha Carter IV cuts. All of the songs were recorded before Wayne’s lock-up. It’s an above-average mixed bag featuring a bit more effort than Wayne’s mixtapes, some highlights, some middling tracks and a couple duds.
Billed as a return to pure “rapping,” Human Being is a moderate retreat-to-form after February’s already orphaned Rebirth. As a whole, it’s less than cohesive and lacks the spontaneity of Dedication 2 and Da Drought 3. Weezy sounds less than energized here, and his flow suffers from saggy wordplay and tired lyrical free-association. He’s got some fine beats to play with here from a nice array of varied producers and collaborators, but on the whole, Human Being feels a little pedestrian.
Opener “Gonorrhea” features Drake (love him or hate him) and smells like an “A Milli” alternate, with pipey, staccato keyboards and a lazy hook. “I Am Not a Human Being” is a clear Rebirth leftover, complete with stomping snares and metal guitar. “What’s Wrong With Them” features sped-up vocals and somehow manages to make a track featuring Nicki Minaj dull. These tracks come and go.
Human Being’s best moments come from unexpected places. Drake’s producer of choice, Noah “40” Shebib, provides two of the album’s best cuts. “With You” is a warm slice of soul with a slick Boi-1da beat. On “I’m Single,” which bears the mark of another of Shebib’s 2010 highlights (Trey Songz’ druggy “Unfortunate”), Weezy flows anemic in slow motion, and when he says “I’m single for the night,” he doesn’t sound happy. He sounds suicidal.
The album series Tha Carter features Wayne’s undeniable shining moments, and at this point, the hype for the fourth is astronomical. First single “Right Above It” (again with Drake) gives us a taste, building fat, astral trumpets on a forward-thinking beat and melody. Here, Wayne doesn’t just feel at ease — he’s empowered. He chuckles, “Life is a beach / I’m just playing in the sand” while we listen to the voice of a man behind bars.
In the end, I Am Not a Human Being isn’t the supernatural, jail-time Innervisions we need from pop’s best rapper. But if we’re one album away from Wayne’s Songs in the Key of Life — Stevie Wonder’s masterwork after his accident — then this’ll do just fine for now.