Whatever happened to Lil Wayne’s Rebirth? The rock-oriented follow-up to last year’s astronomically successful Tha Carter III was originally scheduled to hit shelves in April of this year. It’s since been pushed back repeatedly with little explanation; meanwhile, lead single “Prom Queen” peaked months ago at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Prom Queen” co-writer Shanell set tongues wagging anew this week when she told an interviewer that Rebirth‘s release had been shuffled yet again, from August 18 to some time in September, adding, “When it’s perfect, you guys will receive it.”
Well, after talking to Cash Money Records and Universal Motown Records, the two key industry entities that are responsible for releasing Lil Wayne’s music, the Music Mix can reveal that perfection may be farther off than expected. “Cash Money just changes their dates whenever they want to,” says a Universal Motown rep. “It’s definitely not August. I have no idea why it was moved, and I’m not anticipating a September release. Right now I’m looking at closer to October.” A representative for Cash Money tells the Music Mix even that estimated date is likely too early: “It’s not going to be ’til the end of the year. We’re talking about holiday [season].” You read that right: Rebirth might not be on shelves until December 2009.
What’s going on here? Tha Carter III‘s success established Wayne as one of the biggest contemporary artists in any genre. The man sold a million records in a week, and two million more in the months since. We’re not talking about some new artist struggling to make his or her name. And according to Cash Money, Rebirth‘s recording stage is “pretty much done,” though it’s still awaiting the final mixing and mastering process. How is it possible that this project is still on ice at this point?
“He’s just been really hectic, not having time to promote it the way we’d like to promote it,” says the Cash Money rep. And some argue that Weezy’s crammed schedule is helping, not hurting him with fans. “Wayne is a rock star, so there’s always a large interest,” says Terri Thomas, programming director at Houston’s KBXX-FM “The Box” radio. New Wayne-related material that doesn’t come from Rebirth — especially his supergroup Young Money’s “Every Girl” and his mentor Birdman’s “Always Strapped,” on which he guests — has performed resoundingly well of late on KBXX, leaving “Prom Queen” a dim memory. “Whether he’s on his project or somebody else’s project, he’s always got something coming out,” says Thomas. “For him, one album is not the be-all, end-all.”
This may sound familiar to anyone who remembers the interminable lead-up to Tha Carter III, which was delayed time and time again before finally arriving in June 2008. Guest appearances and free mixtapes throughout that period kept fans’ appetite whetted — and obviously the wait didn’t end up hurting Tha Carter III‘s sales in the end.
But along with devoted fans and infinite buzz, that album had one thing going for it that Rebirth doesn’t so far: a hit single, namely “Lollipop,” which climbed to No. 1 on the Hot 100 a month before Tha Carter III‘s release. The lack of a “Lollipop”-sized smash may be making all the difference right now. “It sounds to me like they’re still looking for the song,” says Neil Jacobson, an A&R/management exec at Interscope Records who has no connection to Rebirth. “Once ‘Lollipop’ came through the door, I think everybody said, ‘That’s it, we’ve got the single.’ And ‘Lollipop’ came late on the last album — that was one of the factors that delayed the release.”
Cash Money says to expect another single from Rebirth soon, though no specific tune has been decided on yet. Unless and until that next single blows up in a big way, Jacobson says it makes perfect sense from an industry perspective to keep Rebirth off the calendar for now. “Moving a release date, nobody cares about that later,” says Jacobson. “I just think they want to wait for that perfect timing. And frankly, they need to. It is so crucial that Wayne’s next single is a monster. The sophomore jinx after coming from a gigantic album is one of the most difficult things to overcome. And if you do it, it can be that much bigger.”
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Photo credit: Jonathan Mannion