Lil Wayne quietly premiered a video for “How To Love” this week, but its subject matter is such a doozy that everyone’s talking about it anyway. The lyrical lament about a girl who never learned how to love has become a message video about a stripper who contracts HIV, but who could have gone to college instead. The maudlin storyline recalls TLC‘s message videos, by way of Metallica‘s “Turn the Page,” and it certainly has its problematic aspects (most of which are succinctly addressed in a Sound of the City piece written by a stripper). For many, though, its melodrama is emotionally affecting despite its politics.
In essence, this song is Lil Wayne’s version of John Mayer‘s “Daughters.” This is not inherently a criticism; Mayer gets a bad rap, partly because of the extent to which the audience to whom he appeals is uncool (and, admittedly, partly because he doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut). The rap ballad has always gotten a bad rap, even as its exemplars have often been rappers’ best-performing songs. Even the anti-rap-ballad screed Jeff Weiss penned for The Hollywood Reporter in response to “How To Love” admits that rap ballads perform extremely well on radio and in the market. To the extent that it’s about purity of rap, his argument is not dissimilar to hair-metal fans’ distaste for those bands’ seemingly pandering ballads.