In Defense of Lil Wayne's "Lollipop"
Wayne: "Dudes are gonna hate this one... Ugly dudes, that is"
On paper, Lil Wayne's new single "Lollipop" should be a complete travesty, a blatant sellout-move capitulation to everything lame in today's pop-music world: gallingly obvious central lyrical sex-as-candy analogy, T-Pain-esque layered-up autotuned vocals, simplistic snap-music drum-pattern, hushed trancey synth-whooshes playing something that sounds suspiciously like the melody to Flo Rida's "Low," no rapping whatsoever, vocal cameo from a dead guy, and, at least in the video, screaming butt-rock guitar solos. It's almost like Wayne concocted the whole thing specifically to annoy and provoke his vast internet hater community. And as a career move, it's almost perversely ballsy: the guy making borderline sacrilegious noise about how he's the best rapper alive releasing a single on which he doesn't rap a single word. It's a naked pop move, sure, but if it doesn't do what it's supposed to do and get Wayne's voice all over top-40 radio, it's the sort of song that could haunt him for the rest of his life. In a weird way, Wayne's throwing all his cards on the table. He's released mixtape after mixtape over the past couple of years, but he's held back on putting out an album for so long that the amount of scrutiny that he'll be facing with Tha Carter III is going to be just insane. A lot of people think he's biding his time because he doesn't have a classic album in him. And maybe they're right. By putting a song like "Lollipop" out into the world and filming a glitzy, expensive video for it, Wayne's giving his doubters exactly what they're waiting for. As a pure asshole move, it's pretty great. But that's not why I like "Lollipop." I like it because it's a good song.
Let me talk about Dave Tompkins for a minute. There might be a few people alive who know more about who know more about electro and vocoders and general robot music than Dave Tompkins, but there sure aren't many, and there's definitely nobody who writes about it better. Sometime last year, I asked Dave what he thought about one of the bigger electro-informed rap hits that was floating around, one I liked a lot. Tompkins didn't like it. He said that too much of what passes for electro nowadays doesn't have the open space and fucked-up twittering noises of so much of the music he loved, and I think I know what he meant. Beyond Wayne's deranged rasp of a voice, there aren't any fucked-up twittering noises on "Lollipop," but there is that same sense of empty space that I hear in, say, Earth Wind & Fire's "Let's Groove" or Cli-N-Tel's "2030."
Where a T-Pain will fill every last available nook of a track with his multitracked computerized bleat, Wayne leaves the track relatively unmolested, letting the pretty little synth-arpeggio bleep away in peace. The drum-track is a minimal little heartbeat thump, snares and handclaps sometimes lightly ticcing around it. There's a soft background spaceship whirr that wells up and then disappears suddenly. Wayne's not a great singer by any stretch, but that doesn't matter much with the autotuner involved, and his voice is way too craggy and singular for all those effects to sap away its idiosyncrasies. His vocals just lazily drift along with the track; he never tries to fight the beat or force it in any one particular direction. It's hard to say how much of the track's regal grace comes from Wayne's dead-guy collaborator Static Major, but given that that guy helped make some of the greatest weird-smooth R&B of the past fifteen years as a frequent collaborator of Timbaland and Ginuwine and Aaliyah, it stands to reason that his inclusion was no accident. If nothing else, Static's involvement indicates that Wayne had the sense to work with an underappreciated master of the form, tapping his expertise just before his sudden tragic death.
The song's video is a typically glossy and show-offy affair, but I like how its garden-variety surreal plotline meshes with its airy track. As it opens, we see Wayne and Static getting ready to go out; both of them, for whatever reason, decide to wear disheveled, tore-up tuxes. A stretch Hummer pulls up outside, and they're happily surprised that it's full of video chicks. But as the song's chorus kicks in, Wayne doesn't waste much time partying with the video chicks. Instead, he opts to change into a completely different outfit and then climb onto the Hummer's roof, where he plays a fiery butt-rock guitar solo as the truck rolls in slo-mo down the Vegas strip. As gratuitous music-video melodrama goes, this reminds me of Slash walking out of Axl's desert-church wedding to play a fiery butt-rock guitar solo, a scene that may have even been Wayne's inspiration here. And I love the way that blinking whirlwind of lights creeps past him; he looks like he's being suspended in space while the world explodes around him.
In this week's Mixtape Monday column on MTV.com, Wayne runs down his newest laundry list of inspirations, and almost everyone on there is either batshit-crazy or deeply embarrassing, sometimes both: T-Pain, Prince, Wyclef, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Alicia Keys, motherfucking Lenny Kravitz. I don't particularly want to see any of these people influencing the man who would be the best rapper alive, but it says something that Wayne managed to pull something sly and heady out of that miasmic web of bullshit. I don't know whether "Lollipop" will actually succeed as Wayne's pop single or not, but I heard it coming out of a whole lot of car windows in Brooklyn this past weekend. I'd say that's a good sign. And if "Lollipop" does turn out to be Wayne's "Candy Shop," it'll mean he's managed to pull that trick off without compromising his own central weirdness. That's something worth celebrating.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in New York, delivered to your inbox.