By Joseph Patel
It's generally been a good rule of thumb when dealing with transactions — monetary and otherwise — to cut out the middleman. If you are selling widgets, you want to go directly to the customer so you may offer the most enticing price; if you are a customer in the market for widgets, you do not want to pay the markup that comes from dealing with others besides the seller. This is Economics 101.
But in the business of creativity, specifically music, sometimes the archetype known as "the middleman" is welcome.
Case in point: Lil Wayne needs a middleman.
Over the weekend, his song "Prom Queen" leaked onto the Internet, and it's the first single off the much-ballyhooed "Lil Wayne rock album" called Rebirth. Blog comments sections and Twitter entries were aflame about how throat-catchingly bad the song was, a trumped-up contrivance that made a too-concerted effort to sound tough and, well, "rock." Even his record label seemingly felt the need to clarify that Rebirth is not connected with Tha Carter albums, as Weezy had originally announced, lest he damage the brand that has brought him ESPN hosting gigs and Gatorade and Nike commercials.
Is the song actually as awful as some would have you believe? Weezy uses the Auto-Tune, and its dispassionate roboticness sorta works against the slow-moving, molten riffs and rhythm section; the girls singing backup try to add some spiritual, goth-like luster (a.k.a. "texture") to the back end. But it's terribly derivative, one of those generic rock songs you'd hear as a "royalty-free" track in your stock Garage Band library. Or if you ever found yourself in a small town in Western Pennsylvania and stumbled into some kid's basement, chances are that kid's band sounds like this. That is, like a five-year-old Evanescence knock off.
Which is exactly the problem. When my brain hears "Lil Wayne rock album," visions dance in my head of Bad Brains collaborations or Dead Prez doing "Hip-Hop" backed by Rage Against the Machine. Or ... I dunno, something with some grit, some anger, some gusto.
Maybe Weezy's knowledge of rock music only allows him to reference half-decade-old sludge-goth. When, in interviews, rappers and producers fawn over Coldplay, I tell them it's the equivalent of someone like Thom Yorke drooling over Will.I.Am. That seems to drive the point home. "I told Jay I did a song with Coldplay. Next thing I know, he got a song with Coldplay." (Dudes, you are having hurt feelings over Coldplay — enough!)
Which brings me to Weezy needing a middleman. He needs someone to introduce him to some real rock music, some real rock musicians. He needs a middleman to steer him away from Linkin Park and introduce him to, say, Neurosis or My Morning Jacket or TV on the Radio or Bad Brains or something ... anything. Weezy F, I'll make you a mixtape. You will put me on retainer. I will bring you up to speed on all the rock music out there that won't make you sound like a 12-year-old. Otherwise, it's like Joaquin Phoenix making a rap record written and produced by Diddy. Oh, wait ...