There are very few rappers in today’s industry that can say they’ve left an impact on multiple eras of the hip hop genre. When thinking about it, Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Jay-Z, and of course, Lil Wayne come to mind. Wayne especially is part of a rare echelon of hip hop artists that have left lyrical handprints all over the place. Even with the growing accessibility of rap music, specifically in the Soundcloud landscape, musicians like Kendrick Lamar and 2-Chainz have not been shy when expressing their gratitude towards the New Orleans legend.
Wayne has approached every obstacle in his illustrious career as nothing more than a bump in the road. When Lil Wayne shot himself at the age of 12 and almost died, he bounced back and made something of himself. When Nas challenged rappers to step up their game on his 2006 album, Hip Hop is Dead, Wayne responded with the classic Carter III in 2008. And finally, when people said his career was slowly declining after I Am Not a Human Being II, the MC broke free of Birdman’s antics, received full control of his musical output, and released Tha Carter V.
After six years of delays and monetary disputes, Weezy re-enters the fold, and presents fans with an eclectic group of tracks that show why he’s considered to be one of the best rappers of all time. Truthfully, for those who have never listened to a Lil Wayne album before, Tha Carter V a good overview of his career. Unsurprisingly, there’s 23 songs, featuring a range of emotions and styles. Wayne re-connects with longtime producer Swizz Beatz on the undeniable banger, “Uproar” (which samples G-Dep’s “Special Delivery”). Wayne’s delivery is not only nostalgic, but memorable, especially with an ear worm of a chorus (“What the fuck though?/Where the love go?/Five, four, three, two, I let one go”). The challenge that goes along with it is equally as enduring (and less annoying the “In My Feelings” dance from the summer). The track is a perfect representation of the magic on display between these two when they work together.
Surprisingly, Wayne’s R&B tracks go off better than expected on Tha C5, and sound more heartfelt than they’ve ever have (especially compared to the cringe-worthy “How You Feel”). “Dark Side of the Moon” possesses a notable improvement in Wayne and Nicki Minaj’s singing, especially with the minimal use of autotune on Minaj’s vocal contributions. Regardless of when this track was recorded, compared to her supposed ballads on Queen, Minaj’s addition on Tha C5 was undeniably a step-up. Not to mention, for someone who supposedly goes off the top of the dome in every verse, Wayne’s lyrics are actually quite moving and well-thought out.
Weezy also trades his usual sexual-exploits for a more family-oriented narrative, especially with regards to his mother, who starts off the album with a beautiful phone call to her son on “L Love You Dwayne.” Wayne responds to the most important person in his life with a subtle memo about his own thoughts on “Don’t Cry.” The late XXXtentacion contributes his familiar crooning to the chorus, thus adding an extra layer to Wayne’s introspective verses (“I see death around the corner/An the U-turn sign’s looking like a smile/What do I do now? Who gon’ find me how?”).
The New Orleans rapper doesn’t shy away from giving longtime fans his infamous punchlines either, like on “Dedicate,” where Wayne raps, “I’m the heart of this shit, and the art doesn’t skip/Take the heart of yo’ bitch, ’cause like Bart, you a Simp.” Wayne’s perfectly aware of his impact (as shown by the 2-Chainz sample), even on his twelfth album, which is incredible in itself.
Wayne still shows he can bring the best out of anyone on a track, as shown by the nutty (but incredible) Kendrick Lamar feature, “Mona Lisa.” In the most Biggie way possible, Wayne and K-Dot tell this crazy story about two separate encounters with this girl who seems to be cheating. As expected, the wordplay on here is as absurd as it is unbelievable, and Lamar’s cadence-change somehow outlasts the person who inspired him to start rapping. In a weird way, it represents the official passing of the torch, even though Kendrick has kind of already taken it based on his illustrious discography.
Travis Scott continues his fantastic musical run on the trap-infused “Let it Fly.” His up-tempo chorus about birds flying high is everything you’d expect from the Houston native, especially if it was already recorded from back in his mixtape days. It’s Wayne’s banter that makes the song though, notably with his incorporation of the word “line” and how he cleverly uses it as a basis for rhyming on the track.
The project does falter a bit in the second half, which is expected out of an hour and twenty three minute hip hop record. There are some instances where Wayne either repeats something he’s already mentioned, or just flat-out makes a lifeless song. An example of this occurs on the underwhelming and outdated, “Start Your Shit Off Right.” The one kryptonite in general with this project is the fact that it’s been six years in the making. The Ashanti track probably wasn’t recorded within the last couple of years, thus the overall stay win general sounds a little too much like the mid-2000s.
However, unlike some of his contemporaries who’ve followed this format, Wayne keeps things interesting. Even on the final song, Let it All Work Out,” Weezy tastefully incorporates a sample from Sampha, ending the project in the most optimistic manner possible. Unlike most overly-hyped albums, Tha Carter V was worth the wait, and features an artist still on his game, ready to take back the throne that was supposedly taken from him. As LeBron James said in a recent interview, was Wayne ever gone?