And yet something doesn't quite sit right. For the man who once composed a love song to his purple drank, this is roughly the equivalent of stripping Bill Gates of his keyboard, or Wonder Woman of her bracelets.
On "6'7"," the first single since he returned (and slated for his much-anticipated upcoming album Tha Carter IV), his rapping is crisper and quicker, his voice has lost some of its raspy edge, and his lyrics are obviously more considered. His sober performances are noticeably different. Reports from early dates of his "I'm Still Music" tour speak to a particularly energized Wayne. MTV News notes that he appears "agile," and "trimmer" than he was before prison. The word "lucid" has also been used.
But is this what we want? Has sobriety infused Weezy with renewed creative vitality, or has it stripped him of the spark that made him so much fun before? You could argue both points here, which is what I will therefore do. (Lil Wayne performs at Oracle Arena this Sunday.)
Point: A Sober Wayne Is an Awesome Wayne
Sure, musicians on drugs are romanticized, but they also quite often end up dead. I think we can all agree that codeine-promethazine drank is not part of a balanced diet, and that a healthy Wayne beats no Wayne at all.
For the first time in a while, he nowadays seems completely focused on his craft, and his new stuff sounds pretty on-point. "6'7"" is sharp, clear and -- more often than not -- clever. "Glass half empty, half full, I'll spill ya/ Try me and run into a wall, outfielder," is good. And "woman of my dreams, I don't sleep so I can't find her," is funny, too. Regardless of what you think of the song, it's clear he has actually planned out what he's going to say, rather than just spewing whatever bogus epiphanies filter into his dome.
There's also evidence that he is no longer such a colossal prick. Fat Joe has said he's funnier these days, and Nicki Minaj insists he's nicer. Wayne's days of megalomania seem to be over.
As all great artists eventually need to do, he's ready to evolve.
Counterpoint: Sober Wayne Sucks Balls
Um, has anyone actually listened to the lyrics on "6'7"? "Real G's move in silence like lasagna?" C'mon. It takes, like, two weeks to understand what he's talking about, and then you realize that the G is not actually silent in the word "lasagna." (Don't even get me started on "I got through that sentence like a subject and a predicate.")
In the old days, even when Wayne spoke gibberish, at least it was amusing gibberish. At their best, his ramblings were transcendent. If lines like "Touch and I will bust your medulla/That's a bullet hole, it is not a tumor" are not downright Dada, I don't know what is.
What we all love (make that "loved") about Wayne was his spontaneity, his humor, and his unpredictability. These characteristics seem to have gone down the drain along with his stash.
Biggie, Tupac, Kurt Cobain, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Our heroes are our heroes for a reason: Because they burned out before they got a chance to suck. With Wayne off the sauce, there's every reason to think that his new, polished material will not live up to his previous, gloriously unhinged work.
Tha Carter IV could be filled with fresh flows, precise rhymes, and the best rapping of Wayne's career -- and that would be an unmitigated disaster.
Ben Westhoff is the author of Dirty South: OutKast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop