Upon releasing 4:44, stalwart veteran Jay-Z provided a blueprint for his peers. It’s not uncommon to hear the album cited as a benchmark in modern discourse; it’s almost as if everybody wants hip-hop’s elder states-people to follow the Jigga Man’s example. For some, anything less than forty minutes of concise self-analysis is unacceptable. Wrongs must be righted, childhood haunts revisited. Recent releases from Kanye West, Eminem, and Nas found themselves on the receiving end of a motherly type of scorn: why can’t you be more like Jay-Z? Yet we can discern plenty about the aforementioned three through their previously released music. Lil Wayne, in keeping with his “Martian” persona, has largely remained enigmatic.
Songs like “I Feel Like Dying” and “Shoot Me Down” toyed with Weezy’s inner anguish to varying degrees. Yet Wayne always seems to brush off deeper analysis with the same flippancy reserved for his deposition. With an endless reserve of pop culture references that might have made him a formidable Trivial Pursuit opponent, Weezy preferred to pursue his quest to become the “Best Rapper Alive.” To do so, meant forsaking emotional attachment in the name of his mission. The sacrifice paid dividends. Some subjects were eager to proclaim a new punchline king. Others marveled at his transition from child prodigy to lyrical trendsetter. Tha Carter 3, dubbed a classic in certain circles, helped cement the Young Money pioneer as a commercially viable entity. Few can dispute Wayne’s reign as a genuinely talented A-lister, an introvert to be observed from afar.
There is little point in rehashing the sordid tale of Tha Carter V’s rollout. At long last, the pentalogy has reached a conclusion. Since dropping the opening chapter, 2004’s Tha Carter, Wayne has navigated through life with an anti-hero’s cavalier charisma. Such constraints are no more, as evidenced by the album’s introduction. “I thank the Lord, because I know you have been through a lot that I don’t even know about,” says Jacida Carter, in a tearful spoken word dedication to her son. Evidently, Weezy’s reticence to share makes “I Love You Dwayne” all the more powerful; it’s almost as if he’s rewarding his patient fans with the promise of deeper insight. It’s likely that Tha Carter V will be recognized as Wayne’s most personal album to date.
In truth, expectation is at once a worthy ally and a fickle nemesis to Lil Wayne’s cause. On one hand, there is no denying that the simple fact we’re sharing Tha Carter V is a triumph for hip-hop fans worldwide; many had accepted the album to be lost, until it came wandering through the mist nearly seven years later. Yet short of delivering something undeniable, Tha Carter V seemed destined for anticlimax. Luckily, Weezy made sure to revisit his project with modern sensibilities, imbuing the album with a sense of wisdom he may not have possessed upon its initial conception. As a result, Tha Carter V feels insightful enough to appease those seeking something new from Wayne, while staying familiar enough for the ones who simply missed the stylistic flourish.
Lyrically, Wayne remains sharp, still burning off the momentum of recent Dedication drops. Throughout the opening quarter, Weezy slides effortlessly over instrumentals, blending occasional witticisms with mischievous ghoulery. “Don’t Cry” begins on a reflective tone, while follow-up “Dedicate” finds Wayne shaking off the dust, playfully flicking detractors with scathing proclamations, including “like Bart, you a simp.” The infectious barrage of “Uproar” takes Wayne to the hunting grounds, where he single-handedly leaves the North American buffalo population decimated. It’s evident that Wayne is having fun throughout, and while many rhyme schemes tend to find words and phrases beaten like horses long dead, the sheer maniacal glee with which Weezy spits is engaging in itself. Take “Let It Fly,” which finds Wayne seizing “minds” and “lines,” dual wielding them like twin bludgeons; can anyone else in the game spit “my goonie goons the gooniest” with such conviction? In that regard, the Goblin is one of a kind. Yet the brilliant moments of advanced world-building evidenced on “Mona Lisa” can feel all too fleeting, especially given their relative sparsity. And given the album’s twenty-three track runtime, such omissions can feel more like missed opportunities.
While Wayne has been at the epicenter of two separate eras – Cash Money and Young Money – he largely distances himself from ground long-since-covered. Remnants of each movement are respectively represented by a lone Mannie Fresh appearance, and Nicki Minaj delivering her strongest melodic performance to date. Though Weezy has seemingly eschewed all connective tissue to his past, Tha Carter V still carries a nostalgic throughline; perhaps it’s triggered by a return to form, or simply the continuation of a beloved series. In any case, Wayne’s triumphant return was met with open arms, and even those who once decried “autotune Weezy” welcomed his melodic stylings like an old friend.
Unfortunately, Wayne decided the leave his scissors behind during the curation process, resulting in a project that is undeniably overlong. While never outright unpleasant, a lack of thematic cohesion makes Tha Carter V a libation best imbibed in several sittings. Yet who can falter Wayne for making up for lost time? Perhaps brevity might have come off as shortchanging, even if some songs, particularly in the latter half, will likely struggle for a greater sense of autonomy. All things considered, it’s damn nice to have Weezy back in the fold, and such complaints feel disingenuous in the presence of a revitalized GOAT contender.
Tha Carter V is not Lil Wayne’s crowning achievement, nor is it even the best Carter project; chapters one and two remain locked in an eternal scuffle for that honor. Yet it remains an enjoyable listen, fuelled in part by adoration for the man behind it. When the second-honeymoon phase ends, perhaps a new perspective can be gleaned amidst the settled dust. In the interim, enjoy Lil Wayne’s latest offering for both what it is and what it represents in the greater historical context. Though never reaching 4:44 levels of therapeutic self-release (the closest he comes is on album closer “Let It All Work Out”), Wayne’s liberation from Cash Money permeates the very nature of album; a victory lap in a race he never needed to run