An artist’s legacy in hip-hop is a fickle thing, constantly changing depending on the public’s perceived notion of who’s a “legend” or who’s “washed.” For Lil Wayne — the Cash Money posterboy who’s spent the majority of the past several years in an ongoing legal battle to release his latest album, Tha Carter V — the perception forming was that of a legacy act, an MC past his prime, regulated to dropping mediocre mixtapes and making tawdry guest appearances on other’s songs (saying he would “beat that pussy up like Emmett Till” on Future’s “Karate Chop”). Wayne was stuck in rap purgatory for nearly six years, a situation that’s acknowledged in the intro for Tha Carter V, as Wayne’s mom shares a tearful show of support: “They can’t wait for your album to come out.” On the following track, the rapper responds to the emotional intensity of the woman who raised him through the voice of recently deceased rapper XXXTentacion, who wails out with tortured anguish, “Don’t cryyyyyyy.” If all this makes for a bleak start for The Carter V, it’s also one that feels appropriate for the album overall: Wayne later addresses his fall from grace (“Just another n***a that done lost his head/No, a fucking king that forgot his crown”) in a way that feels refreshingly honest, especially considering the empty brags in some of his other recent work (that remix of Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” that featured the line “made her eat so much pussy, need a lunch break”).
The Weezy of Tha Carter V is in just about top form, delivering some of the most exhilarating raps of his career: from tongue-twisting alliteration of “Let It Fly” (“Tunechi-Tune a lunatic, my goonie-goons the gooniest”) or the slick cadence of his voice over the loping beat of “Dedicate,” which exudes a punchy, free-flowing swagger. The pinnacle of Wayne’s dizzyingly-paced wordplay is found in the almost avant garde “Mona Lisa,” as Wayne and Kendrick Lamar meticulously craft a narrative of deception and betrayal, with Wayne as the aggressor (“take everything that you have ’til you don’t even have an opinion”) and Kung-fu Kenny as the casualty of a love-triangle. Somehow hilarious, moving, and hair-raising all at the same time, “Mona Lisa” is every bit what we should except when the self-appointed Greatest Rapper Alive finally meets a worthy opponent; it’s a real Clash of the Rap Titans, as both artists rap their asses off in breathless, two-and-a-half-minute intervals. And by this point we’re not even halfway through the album — which continues to take wild genre turns in the back half, trying out a rockstar lament (the tragically resilient “Mess”) and a summer jam circa the mid-Aughts (the Mack Maine- and Ashanti-assisted “Start This Shit Off Right”). The final track of this near-90-minute behemoth, “Let It All Work Out,” features a sped-up Sampha-sample and confronts one of Dwayne Carter’s darkest memories: his attempted suicide, at age 12. The track feels like a momentous catharsis for the New Orleans rapper, a final emancipation from troubles of the past. It’s also the most brutally honest moment on Tha Carter V; no swaggering, no bragging, and no bullshit can be detected here, as the vivid image of Wayne’s lifeless body being saved by an almighty force looms large, closing the album out on a redemptive note. Mrs. Carter speaks one more time (“Love you, Dwayne“), and Wayne himself delivers an triumphant adlib (“I’m out this bitch“) — and just like that, for the embattled Wayne and his long-delayed The Carter V, it all worked out.
Published as part of What Would Meek Do? | Issue 3