Lil Wayne

Here’s a short list of people and things I expected to make a comeback in 2016, I had Fruitopia (Strawberry Passion Awareness), Tracy Morgan, Eddie Murphy, and Crash Bandicoot.

Lil’ Wayne certainly wasn’t on that list. When it came to Dwayne Carter, I had, time and again, signed myself up for disappointment.

Like so many others, I remembered the Weezy F. Baby of old – the legendary run Wayne had in the early 2000s, anointing himself “The Best Rapper Alive” with no one’s permission or cosign. His hunger was never sated, his work ethic undeniable.

He unleashed Tha Carter in 2004, the formal declaration of his “grown up’ness” after having been the literally “wee” Weezy on Cash Money Records, nestled between the giants of Birdman/Baby and Juvenile and behind B.G. (his tag-team partner in the Hot Boyz), for a second. A year later came Tha Carter II, which rests uncontested at the top of all of Wayne’s catalog. In 2008, Tha Carter III, the most mainstream and “radio friendly” of the Carter series, not quite as potent as its predecessor but easily embraced and devoured by hip-hop and MTV/VH1 audiences alike. In the times between releases, Wayne rattled off freestyles, in the form of The Drought tapes, The Carter Sessions tapes, The Suffix, and The Dedication series, to name a few. Sports team bandwagonning aside, he was unstoppable. Wayne often called himself a “martian”; a MONSTER was probably a more fitting moniker. We speak of “THAT Tunechi” in almost Greek epic language, and not without reason.

2009 saw him release a mixtape full of freestyles that might as well have been an album, in No Ceilings, a “jackin’ for beats” tape over which Wayne and his Young Money cohorts – including Shanell (“SNL”), a young man he had taken under his wing by the name of Drake, Gutta Gutta, and more – all went IN. He used Young Money to mine talent, padding the Cash Money roster with the likes of Tyga, mixtape maven Nicki Minaj, up-and-comer Lil’ Twist, and even Busta Rhymes at a point.

When Wayne began to fully indulge his creative freedom, delving into the worlds of fashion, skateboard couture, and rock music, he set free Rebirth in 2010, a crossover rap-rock album that was hard for many to digest. Its singles were, arguably, Rebirth’s only saving grace: “Prom Queen,” an earnest reflection over a grunge rock guitar, resonated with those of us still in school who knew the frustration of an unrequited crush; and “Drop The World,” one of his two collaborations with Eminem that year alone (the first being “No Love” on Em’s Recovery). But Rebirth was lacking. The hunger was… not there anymore. Some would blame it on Wayne’s new distractions with skateboard culture, others with his growing dependency on substances concocted in Styrofoam cups; still others, wondered if Wayne had let himself go lax as some of his own roster began to shine as brightly, if not brighter than, himself – specifically, Drake and Nicki.

The releases following Rebirth were mostly forgettable. I Am Not A Human Being attempted to revive the feeling of No Ceilings but was unsuccessful. Sorry 4 the Wait was the worst apology ever, and bore a freestyle over Adele’s “Rolling in The Deep.” Tha Carter IV had solid singles in “6 Foot 7 Foot,” “She Will,” and “How to Love,” but couldn’t hold up much else. I Am Not A Human Being II gave way to “Love Me”at most. The Dedikation 4 appeared lazy and Dedication 5 wasn’t much better. The Free Weezy Album, released in lieu of an internal dispute with Cash Money, bore hope with producer Mannie Fresh’s name attached to the project, but didn’t live up to the hype. Wayne’s Lil’ Weezyana Fest, at least, put some respeck back on Young Carter’s name, but it wasn’t the same.

There were, in spite of the flops, flashes that Wayne was still capable of some greatness. From 2014 to 2015, a string of appearances alongside Drake – on some of which the two were indistinguishable, because Weezy seemed to adopt an Aubrey-like inflection in his voice – showed some signs of life: on “Believe Me,” for example, and “Used To.” But it wasn’t the same. It was NEVER ever going to be the same.

Which is why, when 2Chainz announced ColleGrove, a collaborative project between he and Lil’ Wayne to kick off 2016, I didn’t care.

2Chainz was in the middle of his own attempt to climb back from the bottom: B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time failed to live up to his debut, but his Felt Like Cappin’ mixtape put him back on solid ground. But then, I got Apple Music by way of its free trial. ColleGrove premiered exclusively on the platform; it stared up at me from my phone on the “new music” page, dared me to press play in spite of its cover artwork (which eerily reminded me of Bow Wow & Omarion’s FaceOff creepy combo-face cover from 2007). I did.

ColleGrove didn’t miss. It was actually a 2Chainz album that only featured Lil’ Wayne, BUT on the songs where Wayne was featured, he didn’t disappoint. He floated on “Blue C Note,” a future shake joint staple. Weezy sounded like he was having actual FUN on “Gotta Lotta” and “Bounce.” His slow flow on “What Happened” sounded like classic Wayne. I wrote it off.

But Wayne wasn’t done.

In a surprising collaboration, he appeared on Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman LP, playing a perfect partner on Grande’s urban single, “Let Me Love You.” He carried over the energy from ColleGrove into an appearance on “No Problem” alongside Chance The Rapper. Reuniting with 2Chainz, the track turned out to be the crunk moment of Coloring Book; when it was premiered on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 Radio, the demand for it was so high that Lowe replayed it six times back to back. 2Chainz put Wayne on the remix of his “MFN Right” track, making it much better than the original. Wayne’s most recent appearance in 2016? On YG’s Still Brazy album, taking his NOLA drawl to the West Coast on “I Got A Question.” And there are still six months left in the year.

Granted, these are all features. And it’s possible Wayne may have derailed his momentum by lapsing back into his old ways, as the rapper was hospitalized behind seizures earlier this week. But there just might be SOMETHING left in Weezy’s tank, after all. The first six months of 2016 alone of Lil’ Wayne appearances have given me more hope than pretty much anything Wayne released in the last two years.

Does Tunechi still have good, well, “tunes” in him? Or is this just his “victory lap” before retiring after Tha Carter V‘s eventual release? Maybe I’m not ready for the answer to either question. Maybe I just need to be okay with the Wayne we have right now – the Wayne that’s been worth every bar thus far.