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Lil Wayne, the Guest

Solange’s new album reminds us that Weezy is the perfect R&B guest rapper

Getty Images
Getty Images

Guest appearances on albums often say as much about the guest as they do about the artist responsible for making the record. Without the weight of sole authorship, guests are free to try new things; to show different sides of themselves, or to discover entirely new sides. For all its gospel over- and undertones, Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book didn’t feel like a sermon so much as the fellowship meal after the service. Like with Surf, Chance’s collaborative album with Donnie Trumpet and their collective, the Social Experiment, Coloring Book featured performers who would wander in and dip out without much fanfare, recalling the ease of interactions between friends and family. If someone gets up from the table, there’s no need for drawn-out goodbyes because you’ll see them again soon enough.

That communal approach seemed to afford Chance the ability to pull the very best out of his guests. Future, who’d been suffering a little (but only a little) from a lack of quality control after putting out 200 projects in 2015, came waltzing in on “Smoke Break” with a bunch of mini-hooks and life affirmations crammed into what might’ve been his best verse this fiscal year.

Future’s natural inclination is to mass-produce from his sunless, hedonistic headspace. Chance offered him a different lane, and, same as with Mac Miller on “Earth” in 2013, Future rose to the occasion. Though he did still take a shot at Ciara because, well, he just can’t help himself.

Solange’s gorgeous and necessary A Seat at the Table, released last Friday, has a similar communal feel. There is Sampha doing backing vocals on “Don’t Touch My Hair.” There is André 3000’s presence on “Junie.” Master P chronicles the inception of No Limit Records and explains the importance of black ownership and empowerment in sporadic interludes throughout the album — a lesson that should be added to the school curriculum standards across the country immediately. (“Black kids have to figure it out — we don’t have rehabs to go to. You gotta rehab yourself.”)

Solange also did for Lil Wayne what Chance did for Future.

Wayne’s stock has been in decline of late. In 2016, if it wasn’t a predictable, phoned-in verse, it was a boneheaded comment about there being no such thing as racism. I’m not saying the problem is entirely fixed now, but I am saying Wayne stockholders can report gains this quarter, thanks to Solange.

Nowadays, without looking (or listening), you broadly know what you’re getting with a Wayne verse. It’s not that he only can rap about weed and cunnilingus; it’s just that he has to remember to not rap about those things, in the same way that Douglas Adams described learning to fly as “learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” Wayne just needed a nudge — to be sent back into the booth to hit that shit again until he got it right. With his airtight verse on “Mad,” it sounds like Solange did just that:

It was so beautiful I could have cried. OK, I did cry. Wayne’s R&B features are an often neglected but rewarding part of his oeuvre. Though at home literally anywhere, softer cuts push Wayne into newer and more interesting places, where his canny wordplay is at its most playful. Due to his mechanical output there are a lot of these guest spots, but here are some of the best ones.

T-Pain, “Can’t Believe It”

This was right in the thick of the circa–Carter III period, known for that heavy, dissociative Auto-Tune experimentation where Wayne’s voice had like, hundreds of textures, and he’d occasionally stumble into complete thoughts. Perhaps more so than at any other time, each new line was genuinely exciting because there was absolutely no telling how it would end. Also, you’ve never heard a mild threat made to sound as endearing as “I could put ya ass out, oooooh keep runnin’ yo mouth / and if ya brothers come trippin’ I’mma show ’em what these teardrops ’bout.

You know, we never did get that T-Wayne album.

Destiny’s Child, “Soldier”

I will not make a joke about scratching Michelle’s vocals for a second Wayne verse. I will not make a joke about scratching Michelle’s vocals for a second Wayne verse. I will not make a joke about scratching Michelle’s vocals for a second Wayne verse. I will not ma —

Lloyd, “You”

Wayne rapping over a Spandau Ballet sample is great and all, but the outro is where the gems are at. He’d just spent 20-ish bars talking the flyest who else you really wanna be with but me shit — at a bar, or maybe just like, in the middle of the street like they do in music videos — and then says, “I ain’t talkin’ fast, it’s just you listening slow.” And it’s just so comprehensively smooth, like, how does anybody live to be that slick and amazing?

Robin Thicke, “Oh Shooter”

This is on both The Evolution of Robin Thicke and Tha Carter II, and Thicke might be crooning and zoot-dooting all over the breakdowns, but there is no debate here: this is a Lil Wayne song. It’s full of if-it-was-a-snake-it-would’ve-bitten-me truisms. For example, Wayne raps, “This is Southern, face it / If we too simple, then y’all don’t get the basics” and I did the Wee-Bey GIF in real life.

Mary J. Blige, “Someone to Love Me (Naked)”

This is the best-ever use of the punchline flow and I am 100 percent correct about this. No, I didn’t fact-check it, but I am certain that you’re wrong and a bad person if you disagree.