Day 355: “Prom Queen” – Rebirth, 2010
In 2017, every rapper wants to be a rock star. Being a rock star means not giving a fuck, trashing hotel rooms and doing way too many drugs while wearing studded leather jackets, right? It means ripping off the Metallica logo for your merch, right? I guess, yeah, sure.
It’s telling to look at Lil Wayne, rap’s first rock star, the guy who made it a thing for rappers to dress up like hair metal artists and warble in Auto-Tune and call it rock. He introduced the world to this image on “Prom Queen,” a single with heavy guitars, a fair share of tortured singing, and a video that found him throwing an arena rock show. But Lil Wayne’s rock star transformation wasn’t exactly about trying to be like Poison or whatever. As much as Wayne loved guitar pyrotechnics and the whole spectacle of trashy rock—even embracing Young Money signee Kevin Rudolf for some still-indiscernible reason—his own rock album is not just about being a rock icon. Most of it, in fact, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, is super fucking angsty. And “Prom Queen” in particular is a confusing type of angst: It’s Lil Wayne channeling the pent-up frustration of not having girls pay attention to you in high school.
This theme, of course, is a common one in rock. It’s basically the subtext for all the music made by Weezy’s good friends in Weezer, for instance. But it’s a bizarre one for Lil Wayne to latch onto because he was already making music in high school—about how rich and awesome he was. Lil Wayne was famous in high school, and he already had more attention from girls than most dudes get in their entire lives. So it’s interesting that he chose to tap into this specific theme for his lead rock single. Did Lil Wayne feel that teen angst was a necessary part of the DNA of the kind of rock music he wanted to make? Or was he trying, in making Rebirth, to relive a youth that he had been deprived of? It’s hard to say, and I’m not totally interested in finding out the whole backstory to know for sure.
What I think is clear, regardless of the specific rationale for choosing teen angst, is that Rebirth represented a moment of reevaluation for Wayne, something that I think is common when you hit your late 20s—probably even more so if you’ve been in the same career since you were 14. It’s a period during which many people question their career path and imagine other directions they might have gone or might still be able to go. Rebirth was quite literal in its aim: It imagined a new course forward for Lil Wayne.
Ultimately, that course ended up looking pretty similar to where he was probably already headed, but it was still a philosophical reorientation. Lil Wayne’s single-minded focus on being the best rapper seemed to shift as he reached this period in his life. He began to appear more interested in simply the possibilities afforded to him now that he had reached a pinnacle, branching out into other musical directions and even hobbies like skating. By digging into an alternate history for himself—one based around having the teenage years of an angsty loser rather than of a precocious rap star—he imagined other courses for his life, and he set himself up to explore them. Meanwhile, for the rest of us, we got to imagine a world in which Lil Wayne was the only emo band we ever needed.
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