Albums get reissued all the time. Classics like Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On get deluxe editions and remasters. Other albums will honor milestones, such as Nas’ Illmatic XX, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Queens rapper’s magnum opus. These albums are cash cows — a method to capitalize on landmarks in music history. They’re also potential opportunities to improve upon already lauded albums, adding in new tracks or remastering old ones.
Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings is not one of these albums.
Though it came out in 2009, it has only recently been officially released to streaming services. This version of the mixtape, however, actually contains less songs than the original, removing nearly half of the tracks — and most of the good ones. This new, half-baked product reveals a cynical approach to music on the part of Young Money Entertainment, Wayne’s record label. In many places, the album is completely unchanged, but in some, the changes actually make No Ceilings worse.
Take the mixing: Songs such as “Shoes” sail by the listener, obnoxiously repetitive and wholly uninterested in making a mark. The bass could be deepened, the snares could skitter more. But a lack of effort or imagination restricts these songs, which now feel like fossils dug up only to be sold. Instead of being refurbished or reworked, these songs are simply thrown back into the world with neither love nor care.
Then there are Lil Wanye’s vocals. Lil Wayne has always enjoyed a rare privilege as one of the few rappers who seems to get a pass on all of his wordplay and dumb puns because it’s always been clear that he’s just having a good time and making fun music. But on No Ceilings, his voice is understated. Mixing and mastering changes could have elevated the delivery of references to the Superdome and “Step Brothers” instead of letting them slip by, unnoticed and bored.
Boredom abounds on No Ceilings. The winding style of “I’m Single” makes it a constant pain to listen to. It is out of place everywhere — it’s not a club hit, and Wayne’s distracting voice kills any opportunity to play the song in a bedroom. Once praised for its slow, downbeat style, it is now yet another boring entry in a boring album.
Sometimes, the repetitive and basic songs have their merits. The glissandos and swells on “Throw It In” turn it into a lullaby of a track that still manages to pack a bit of a punch. But for every groovy “Throw It In,” there is a “Banned” or “Broke Up,” which sound like Mario and circus soundtracks, respectively. One has to question Lil Wayne’s ability to pick and choose beats.
The glaring issues on No Ceilings consistently go overlooked. If songs and verses can be switched around and changed up, there is no reason to keep Tyga’s atrocious verse on “That’s All I Have.” It almost sounds like a prank, where his vocals were shifted to rid them of rhythm.
“Kobe Bryant,” the album’s final track, was not on the original No Ceilings. In fact, it was never properly released, and originally featured audio snippets from Stephen Smith, LeBron James and Bryant himself, which served to hype up the basketball player and the song as a whole. The 2020 version is significantly different. It’s half as long, removes these snippets and makes a passing reference to Black Lives Matter that is so devoid of care it’s almost a slap in the face to a song that could have potentially been a moment for Lil Wayne to comment on the current American climate.
No Ceilings fails as a reissue. Every possibility of improvement upon the original album was rejected. Every change was for the worse. No Ceilings is the worst case scenario that Tha Carter V fortunately never became: a time capsule revealing Wayne’s age as an artist of the past and a desperate attempt to crank out a record just to make a quick buck.