It’s been 10 months since Lil Wayne was released from prison, and he spent an expected eight in there. Over the last two years, the rapper yielded his rock-rap crossover album “Rebirth,” a tide-you-over “I Am Not a Human Being,” a “Sorry 4 The Wait” mixtape and dropped a number of music videos. In interviews, he not only alluded to inspired hours spent writing in his cell, but also signs of his future, that “Tha Carter IV” may be his last solo album, and that his 30s will look nothing like his very productive 20s.

Everything was leading up to this release; even its album cover indicates a graduation. And for that reason, “Tha Carter IV” is a let-down.
 
Expected was the usual crop of kush, p*ssy-and-guns bluster, repeated hails to New Orleans and the dissemination of hip-hop wisdom. But I also expected some color commentary from his time from the pokey, or the social consciousness of the “Drought” mixtapes, and the freak-flag that he bandied about on monstrous “Human Being.” To borrow from the sample in album best “6 Foot 7 Foot,” I was hoping he’d go bananas.
 
And there are whiffs of that. “God bless America,” he puffs at the beginning of “President Carter,” in which he imagines himself in the Oval Office, legalizing marijuana and tattooing the American flag. It warps into a brief observation on U.S. wars, but rather than a galling criticism, it’s a tangent. “It’s Good” has him going to battle with Jay-Z, threatening an abduction of Hov’s famous wife (and now, apparently, her Bey-Bey) for ransom. He dangerously toes the line, though, switching from hurled insults like “fake n****r” to thudding “pussycat / Hello Kitty.” (Jury’s still out on the loose rhyming of “fagg*t” with “potato salad.”)
 
“Megaman” tips its helmet to Kanye West, and like that rapper, has the mirror turned on himself. But it’s not very revealing: “Life is shorter than bush-wick,” he raps, his voice gradually rising. “Fear nobody but God almighty… I’m a beast, I’m an ass … I’m a diamond in the rough like a baby in the trash.” Similarly, Wayne casts himself an underdog in appropriately titled “Nightmares of the Bottom.” “If you sleepin’ on me n***a, then I hope you toss and turnin’ / I’m so cold im hypothermic / ask your b*tch, she will confirm it, yeah,” he says in that sunken-couch drawl. “Don’t call me sir, call me survivor.” The lazy beat is enough to get you snoozing on Wayne for a totally different reason.
 
As for the other kind of “sleeping,” Wayne reserves a block for the ladies. “So Special” with a sultry John Legend could find its legs at radio like “How to Love,” but “making love” doesn’t suit Weezy’s voice well. (The imagery sometimes fails too: Wayne’s grill as a “tailgate?” Jesus. ) On the flip side of the coin, disposable “Abortion” sounds like the afterbirth of “Rebirth” sessions, sans guitar; kiss-off “How to Hate” is another enigma as to how and why T-Pain remains employed.
 
I would have rather hear Weezy twisting in the wind than inexplicably vote absentee on “Interlude” and “Outro.” The former features the machine-gun-Twista-fast roar from TechN9ne, who has spent years and years looking for a heavy-weight title of his own, and Andre 3000. The latter was split between Bun B, Shyne, Nas and one of Busty Rhymes’ finest moments of recent times.
 
“Tha Carter IV” is not a throwaway, it’s just not mint, golden-era Wayne. Its singles are worthy but not much pops like it did before. It’s a victim of high expectations, granted, but it was Wayne himself who propelled them.