Before Tha Carter V dropped, Lil Wayne hadn’t released an official project since 2011. His impact has still been palpable. From Young Thug to Big Sean to Kendrick Lamar, Wayne’s sonic ambition, vocal ingenuity, witty wordplay, and ferocious sprees of lyrical assonance are evident in today’s stars. And his tatted, rockstar-ideating visual aesthetic has become the official “SoundCloud rapper” regalia. The nihilistic, Autotune-drenched sound that so many of those artists are winning with link back to Wayne deep cuts like “I Feel Like Dying” and “Prostitute Flange.”
In short, his daughter Reginae has about two thousand siblings.
And now Wayne is set to inspire even more artists with Tha Carter V, an album that was more than six years in the making. Wayne’s $50 million dispute with his “father” Birdman over unpaid royalties and advances is over. This spring, Universal assumed Birdman’s debt and liberated Wayne from Cash Money — which also freed Tha Carter V.
As soon as Wayne became free, fans young and old clamored for the project, exemplifying his cross-generational impact. Lil Wayne fansite YoungMoneyHQ compiled a list of artists giving Wayne props which literally runs the gamut of hip-hop history, from Kool G Rap to GZA to 50 Cent to Chance The Rapper. No matter the demographic, the love for Wayne is there due to his immense catalog versatility. While he was dropping odes to purple drink and collaborating with a who’s who of Southern rappers, he was also name-dropping Wu-Tang and The Firm. (That’s why even Kanye West, ever the egotist, had no problem proclaiming that his Yandhi album — which was ultimately pushed from last weekend to Black Friday — would be “number 2” to Tha Carter V.)
In a year when SoundScan killers like Eminem, Drake, Kanye West, and Nicki Minaj dropped, Tha Carter V posted the third-highest opening week. The good showing demonstrates that his name still belongs near the top of the marquee. Perhaps that’s a testament to him sounding hungrier than many of those acts on Tha Carter V.
Where Eminem sounds disgruntled with the game passing him by on Kamikaze, Wayne sounds like an old dog who created the tricks on tracks like the scandalous “Mona Lisa,” which features Kendrick. Drake sounded disillusioned with his massive fame on Scorpion, whereas Lil Wayne’s exuberance radiated through songs like “Open Letter,” where he delivers a thrilling final verse. Kanye suffered a mental health crisis and failed to delve deeply on Ye; Nicki Minaj didn’t adequately explore her own romantic and personal tumult on Queen. On the flipside, Wayne was in reflective mode throughout Carter V, delivering one of his most consistently personal albums on tracks like “Let It All Work Out” and “Took His Time.”
“Demon” was recorded just three weeks ago, proving the album isn’t some gathering of scraps from the last seven years. Wayne clearly saw where other big name albums fell short this year, and sought to right their wrongs. With half the album consisting of personal songs carrying a universal resonance, the album may ultimately have more staying power than the other releases. He also sounded like he actually enjoyed making the project, spitting some of his most effortless raps in years. And, aside from the troubling XXXTentacion feature, I’m thankful that he didn’t do or say anything so disappointing this year.
Those numbers are certified publicity stunt-free.
But he did make one mistake that’s plagued so many 2018 rap releases: the album is too long. It’s understandable that Wayne wanted to stack the deck on his return to the mainstream, but 23 tracks worked against him. Even at Wayne’s peak — Da Drought 3 — he had a problem putting together cohesive albums. His status as a mixtape pioneer may have irrevocably affected his album-making process, as he saw every project as the same opportunity to showcase the extent of his ability — regardless of how the songs mesh together as a finished product.
That’s the case on Carter V, which has intriguing highs like the aforementioned “Mona Lisa,” “Famous” and the viral “Uproar” but is dampened by solid-if-uncompelling tracks like “Start This Shit Off Right” and “Problems,” which are out of place on such a revelatory album. Chopped down for size, the album could have been a more potent straight-through listen.
But that’s not an indictment on Wayne’s return to rap. He was who he’s always been on Carter V, creatively ambitious to a fault. For every line like “Money in the air, who say white men can’t jump,” there are groan-inducers. My initial thrill with Wayne in the Limewire days that is that each track was like playing the lottery. You never knew if you’d get a locked-in freestyle over a 90’s classic or a raunchy, genre-bending track that didn’t sound like anything else out. He was perhaps the only artist who I, for better or worse, gave a pass for his inconsistency. I always knew there was way more where that came from (until 2011, when Birdman decided to halt his production out of sheer greed.)
While Wayne is unlikely to catch his idol JAY-Z as a mogul, he still has the chance to parallel him as a legend with a career that’s simply unmatched. It feels like he’s already had multiple careers: he’s been the Hot Boyz young gun. He’s been the best rapper alive. Now, he’s the rap icon writing a final chapter on his own terms.
Andre Gee is a New York-based freelance writer with work at Uproxx Music, Impose Magazine, and Cypher League. Feel free to follow his obvious Twitter musings that seemed brilliant at the moment @andrejgee.
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