Tha Carter V is finally here. For those who live under a rock, the Carter series is the flagship album series for Lil Wayne, former 9 year old rapping in New Orleans turned member of Hot Boys rapping on classic Mannie Fresh beats and later, seemingly out of no where, one of the biggest pop stars in the world right around 2008 with the release of Tha Carter III. With lawsuits and a falling out with former mentor Birdman, Wayne has been largely absent in the 2010s, save some guest spots, but he has finally emerged truly on his own terms at the age of 36.
Rap has changed immensely since Wayne’s prime, but honestly his influence may be more present than ever. Lil Uzi’s “New Patek” certainly exists in a post-Wayne society as the rapper warbles his way through the anxieties of his come-up in a haphazard autotune approach, but at the macrolevel: Rap is relentlessly Southern at this point, which of course dates back to the famous Outkast quote, but Wayne’s willingness to pull beats and styles from all over the place can’t be erased from this move. There’s Florida’s domination of Soundcloud, Travis Scott’s Houston tributes on the adventurous “Astroworld,” and Swizz Beats and Zaytoven’s strangle hold on the radio environment. There’s exceptions of course—Cardi B repping the East Coast at the moment and Kendrick Lamar West—but even these two titans carry an ounce of Wayne between Lamar’s raw emotional honesty, and Cardi’s virtuosic braggadocio. Wayne for sure sounds dated, but the world has perhaps caught up to HIM in his absence and a comfort zone approach might be the best possible use of his talents in 2018.
This isn’t to say that Wayne’s famed improvisational approach and lack of major editing don’t result in blemishes. The album is ambitiously long with some obvious oversites—use of the word r*tarded, an xxxtentacion feature, and the usual instances of misogyny—but instead of trying desperately to cling to anything, Wayne just does him (I’m on a diet from the fake beef) and makes a breezy collection of songs over a variety of production with biting rhymes that seemingly never slow down.
Square one of the album should be “Uproar.” A lot has been made of the album’s reveal that Wayne’s self inflicted gunshot wound, long rumored to be an accident, was actually a suicide attempt and the weightiness of that confession sends off the album on a intensely stark and somber note, but the album has enough fun for it’s own good and a lot of the blemishes come when Wayne is trying too hard to craft emotional swells. Kendrick Lamar sporting “Mona Lisa,” for instance, is haunted by a dishonest lover and let’s just say that it’s a blessing that we didn’t get Lamar’s “U” voice screaming at a woman character on DAMN. “Uproar” is clean and easy though as the pointed hook “what the fuck though/where the love go” rides the uptempo vibes and crowd noise to impassioned and funny bars: “Swizzy, you a chef, I like my lunch gross.”
Later on, Wayne follows up on the “Uproar” promise with more grade-A bangers. “Dope N****z” features a classic Snoop Dogg verse as the two take pride in their origins: “I grew up around Dope N****z. “Hittas” comes through with some pillowy soul sounds and lethal bass drums, followed by the uplifting hook “Mama said god took his time when he made me” on the next track. “Start This Shit Off Right” of course sounds like about 2004, but Ashanti brings the vocals to make it endearing. The beginning of the work may spark worries that it would drown in darkness, but Wayne lets loose for most of the album.
The album isn’t all fun and games and it doesn’t entirely suffer in moments of self-seriousness. Of course, Wayne speaking openly about his suicide attempt over a cathartic Sampha sample is beautiful and elsewhere we hear some of Nicki Minaj’s best vocals to date on the sweet “Dark Side of the Moon” and songs like “Famous” and “Mess” give us a glance at the continuous day to day anxieties of Wayne the superstar who’s far too deep into fame for anyone’s good.
Lil Wayne is already in the history books and although Carter V might not be the moment that got him there, it shows that the stories not written in stone just yet.