There is no doubt. Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter series is classic. During the early part of last decade, the Louisiana spitter began his legendary streak of hits. When I was in high school, Lil Wayne was a god. His transition from raw young talent to hip-hop mega star is a piece of rap folklore. The best Carter album will always be up for debate. Personally, front to back, I gotta go with Tha Carter III. Despite my love for the second installment, its song quality ratio doesn’t quite measure up. Though the peaks of Carter II are much higher, in my opinion. “Hustler Musik” is a hip-hop track for the ages. Even great songs such as “A Milli” and “Dr. Carter” aren’t as compelling as “Hustler Musik.” My love for Lil Wayne’s music runs deep. At one point I could not risk missing a Wayne song.
However, the third act of his career has been less than favorable to say the least. It’s not all Wayne’s fault, though. The multi-year lawsuit between Birdman and Wayne regarding this current album likely stemmed from greed. After all, Birdman is completely irrelevant without Young Money. But we’ve heard enough about all that. Following an incredibly lengthy delay, Tha Carter V is finally here! My expectations going into this were not high, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Wayne hasn’t dropped a great album in about a decade. I Am Not a Human Being 1 & 2 were nothing special as a whole. Yet “Rich as Fuck” is crazy stupid fire. Also, the Free Weezy Album had a couple bangers, though no signature songs. The fourth installment of his Carter series fared better nonetheless.
“6 Foot 7 Foot” with Cory Gunz, “John” with Rick Ross and “Mirror” with Bruno Mars buffed his list of hit songs. My best friend and I bought the album the day after it dropped. We each had our copy blaring in our cars on the way back to my mom’s crib. I remember getting home right as “Nightmares from the Bottom” ended. Although I don’t consider Tha Carter IV a great album, I enjoy most of its songs. Over the years, Lil Wayne has been a polarizing artist. Not because of any antics or PR hiccups. But rather due to his choices of sounds. Since his Tha Block is Hot days, Weezy underwent multiple artistic shifts. The bling phase; gangsta phase (though he remains a gangsta); mixtape/feature phase; pop phase; rock phase. More often than not, his albums are unpredictable. In some cases, I applaud his experimentation.
Nevertheless, his rock album Rebirth is a top-10 worst album I’ve ever heard. Maybe you haven’t, but I think most of us have forgiven him for that one. So, secondly, I was hesitant for this album because of Wayne’s recent music. I can only describe his latest features as… well… concerning. Nicki Minaj’s “Rich Sex” made me fear for his life. Even though I have faith that Weezy is in control of his drug use, it still has negative effects on his delivery. Mumbling along with a melody is one thing. Jumbled, slurred speech throughout most of a verse is alarming. Despite that, I figured Wayne would be in semi-top form for his ride into the sunset. Tha Carter V opens well. His mother joins him in the photo on the album’s cover. Her voice starts off this 89-minute adventure. An excellent cut follows it.
The song “Don’t Cry” features the late XXXTentacion, who sounds great next to one of the best to ever do it. While it isn’t his best vocal performance, he delivers a complementary and emotional hook. Wayne honors his guest with the line “I want a triple X-tension on my motherfucking afterlife, Rest In Paradise.” This collaboration attempts to ignite a cohesive aesthetic, as his mother’s loving tears end her intro. The next two tracks “Dedicate” and “Uproar” are some of this album’s best moments. The former pitches down 2 Chainz’s vocals where he praises Wayne for his influence on the rap game. His effect spreads beyond hip-hop. Face tats, double-cups of lean, dreadlocks and Auto-tune vocals extend as far as the ear can hear. Today, many young artists butcher Wayne’s initial appeal. Yet I can’t blame them. Lil Wayne is an icon. And they want to be like their hero.
We’re all guilty of that. Moving forward, though — I’m not sure what the Uproar Challenge is. However, it is gaining popularity on the Internet. The song itself is a throwback to mid-2000’s Wayne. He teams up with super-producer Swizz Beatz for one last hurrah. This one takes me back to his Da Drought mixtape series. Here he sounds clear and decisive with his flow. His hardest deliveries come on “Let It Fly” with Travis Scott, “Mona Lisa” with Kendrick Lamar and the solo effort “HIttas.” Alright. I have to address my feelings on “Mona Lisa.” Although the conceptual approach is a change of pace for Wayne, the track underwhelms me. It’s not an awful collaboration whatsoever. Both Wayne and Kendrick spit automatic rounds, albeit over a forgettable beat. In spite of passionate performances, there isn’t much of a song here. The sabotage concept works, but only so much.
Without a memorable instrumental, some kind of melody, refrain or vocal motif the track feels more like a rhymed conversation than a song. Which, to me, makes for a trendy hit for now but lacks longevity going forward. Kendrick’s verse begins great. This TPAB-era characterization was nice to hear. Nevertheless, his cracked-voice inflections grew stale by the end, suffocating the flat instrumental into nothingness. People are raving about this song, while I’m over here wondering where the actual songwriting is. There is more to a rap song than just bars and verses. Structure creates connection. A collab of this magnitude is certainly exciting. Yet I chalk it up as a disappointment considering this concept has no unique traits to it. They did not set up the conflict or storyline all that much.
Thus I would’ve liked to hear how the plan orchestrated. Also, Kendrick’s verse probably should’ve come first since he was the one getting duped. Due to Lamar’s status as best rapper alive, it most likely made sense to put him last. I dunno. I’m just not as impressed as everyone else, it seems. Biggie Smalls’ “Gimme the Loot,” though a lofty comparison, is a concept track worth creating. If you’re going to take a risk, it behooves you to do it right. Otherwise all that hard work ultimately goes to waste, which I believe will happen with “Mona Lisa.” Anyway, other tracks that made this 23-track album such a burden include: “Problems;” “Can’t Be Broken;” and “Start This Shit Off Right.” Not all of the tracks I didn’t like here are wack. Most of them are simply average, and should have either been tweaked or removed.
Wayne bloated this tracklist far too much. I understand this approach nonetheless. After five years of waiting, fans deserve a reward, though I do not think stuffing mediocrity into an album is much of one. During my multiple listens through C5, I found transparent lyricism, witty one-liners and signature flows. All of which will please Lil Wayne stans for years to come. Be that as it may, front to back, this album fails in the self-awareness department. A maximum of 17 or 18 songs is plenty for a highly-anticipated record. But rather than stick to what makes sense, Wayne sticks to what makes money. Weezy is a pop-rapper at this stage, though. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise. He forces listeners to dig through a pile of par to find a handful of gems. Even if those gems aren’t as clear as before, they still, in fact, shine.