Tha Carter V (released September 28, 2018)
People love an underdog story and no one has gone from 0 to 100 quite like Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.
His story is made for film: As a young buck, he enjoyed platinum success off the strength of his association with Cash Money records for the 99 and the 2000. Still, he was still seen as a glorified hype man – the charismatic kid known more for funny one-liners than lyrical prowess. He was just a cog in the machine.
But by 2004, when Wayne kicked off his Tha Carter series of albums and started flooding the game with mixtape after mixtape, a weird thing happened:
He actually got really good.
All those boasts of being the Best Rapper Alive? He willed them into existence, becoming hip-hop’s hardest working man. By the time Tha Carter 3 dropped in 2008, he might not have been the best rapper alive but he BY FAR was the most influential.
That influence is blatantly evident today. From the simile-heavy bars and the obsession with autotune to the endless face tats and infinite cups of lean, Wayne’s DNA is ALL OVER current hip-hop. You can’t throw a rock without hitting 17 Weezy clones.
Lil Wayne is the father Abraham of this rap generation.
But in the decade that followed the monumental success of C3, Wayne’s career has been wracked with turmoil – drug and personal issues; public problems with his former label; pointless rap beefs; wildly inconsistent music releases; and former proteges eclipsing his own popularity.
That’s why the release of the looooooooooooong-delayed Tha Carter V is such an important milestone. The former kingpin is now an underdog yet again. This is Wayne’s opportunity to rewrite his story, something rap veterans rarely get an opportunity to fairly do.
It’s too bad this story is SO long-winded. Yes, Tha Carter V is yet ANOTHER 90-minute behemoth of an album, continuing the current trend of massive albums that sink under its own weight.
I know these gargantuan releases help streaming numbers but the art making cohesive albums certainly is suffering.
Anyway, the album begins with “I Love You Dwayne,” a tearful opener from his mother professing her unconditional love for him. It’s pretty touching, with Mama Weezy personifying Wayne’s steadfast fan base.
“Don’t call it a comeback/It was dark, now the sun back/Hit me hard, but I punched back,” Tunechi proclaims on “Don’t Cry,” the first of many songs where he reasserts his claim to rap’s crown. But for an opening song, it’s oddly lifeless – a problem that haunts the entire first half of Tha Carter V.
All those issues that have plagued Wayne’s material post No Ceilings are here in all their garbage glory – mumbly autotune rap (“Problems”), dreary love songs soaked in Nyquil (“Dark Side of the Moon”), bad crooning (“What About Me”) and OK lyricism enveloped in half-cooked hooks (“Let It Fly”).
I really, REALLY hate the prevalence of this new term “rappity-rap rappers,” which lazy listeners bestow on intricate lyricists whose bars fly over the heads. But in the case of tracks like “Dedicate” and “Uproar,” the term kinda makes sense. Technically, Wayne’s bars are solid but there’s no storytelling to them and they don’t connect with the listener. It’s almost like he’s reading a phone book – you HEAR him, but you aren’t FEELING him.
(I also find it hilarious that “Uproar” samples G Dep’s “Special Delivery” – Wayne sampled the same beat on “Green Ranger” years ago and said he disliked the beat multiple times WHILE RAPPING ON THE SONG)
Besides “Mona Lisa,” which features Wayne and Kendrick Lamar going toe-to-toe over a woman in highly entertaining fashion, the first half of Carter V is, scientifically speaking, booty juice – a bigger disaster than the Kavanaugh hearings.
But by the time the sample of Erykah Badu’s “Bag Lady” kicks in on the smoothed-out “Dope N****z,” Wayne finally finds his groove.
This is when C5 finally finds its focus, moving away from the non-sequiturs and sloppy mixtape material to provide a keen commentary on the man behind the music.
Y’all know I’m a sucker for soulful production, and that shines through on “Took His Time” and “Demon,” especially the haunting organ on the latter. “Mess” and “Perfect Strangers” follow, detailing the toll lust and infidelity took on Wayne’s relationships. But Weezy refuses to play victim, instead looking to the man in the mirror for answers on “Dope New Gospel”: “Couple a cracks in the mirror, he been through the cracks/I see no cracks in me, though.”
Don’t worry, Wayne breaks up the mood with “Hittas” featuring the frantic lyricism of his heyday and even reunites with Mannie Fresh for the throwback house party feel of “Start This S*** Off Right.” And hey, Ashanti even shows up to um … harmonize? It just sounds like the doctor’s making her say AHHHHH but whatever.
Carter V is the tale of two albums – the first half filled with meaningless clutter and the second half boasting some of the most vulnerable, mature lyrics of Wayne’s career. And with a 90-minute runtime, it makes for a very long, inconsistent listen.
I get why the reactions to Tha Carter V have been so erratic – impatient fans probably aren’t willing to slog through a half hour of mediocrity to get to the solid stuff. And diehard Young Money fans will ignore the scores of weak tracks and focus on the gems.
The truth, as always, lies in the middle. Tha Carter V is an exhaustive redemption song cluttered by needless filler. By the time the credits roll on the heartbreaking final track “Let It All Work Out” you do realize it’s a happy ending for rap’s biggest underdog. It’s just not the blockbuster it intends to be.
Best tracks: “Dope N****z,” “Mona Lisa,” “Hittas”
3 stars out of 5