The Freedom of Rock, or Lil Wayne and His Goddamn Guitar, Part 3

Day 304: “Knockout” feat. Nicki Minaj – Rebirth, 2010

The last couple days I’ve poked at various reasons why Lil Wayne might have been drawn to the idea of a rock album as emotional catharsis. Then today I stumbled across a quote from a 2009 interview with Billboard (no longer retrievable on their site it seems, but via LilWayneHQ) talking about Rebirth in the lead-up to its release. Here, he makes those ideas explicit, in response to a question about whether or not the album will be the rumored “rock” project he had discussed:

I don’t want people to think I’m trying to do something I can’t do. Don’t think you’re going to put on the album and hear me screaming and singing … Don’t worry about that. (laughs) When people hear me say “rock,” they may get a little scared like, “Oh, God. What is he going to do?”

When I said I was doing a rock album, it was about doing a freedom thing. This album isn’t hip-hop. When I do my “Carter” albums, I know I’ve got to rap, I know I’ve got to spit—I know the words I’ve got to say and the subjects I’ve got to talk about. I also know the things I shouldn’t say, the things I shouldn’t talk about.

There’s none of those limits on this album. I say what I want, how I want. That’s what this album is: a freedom album. And rock is the avenue that gives you that freedom.

I’m just having fun, that’s all. Trust me: People will like these songs. It’s my job to make them love them, but I know for a fact they’ll like them.

In 2009, Wayne was facing a lot of expectations. He had just released one of the few albums ever to go platinum in its first week of sales. He was on damn near every song on the radio. He was a superstar, and he had to deal with the expectations that came with that. And rather than trying to play into those expectations, he bucked them entirely, doubling down his focus on doing whatever the hell he wanted and on cultivating his new Young Money artists Drake and Nicki Minaj (the latter makes an impressive showing on “Knockout” despite the stylistic minefield it presents). Can you blame him for making the decision to fuck around and play the guitar instead of do what everybody wanted him to do? What is more rock than that?

“Knockout” is not a great song. Wayne barely has any lyrics. But, look, a lot of pop-punk songs don’t say that much, and most pop-punk bands are not as fun to watch in a video as Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj. The genre is supposed to be dumb and fun, and Wayne and Nicki do it justice with this video. Rock is the avenue that gives you that freedom. What is truer than that?

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