“It has been quite a journey / From my driveway to my front door / It has been quite a journey.” Lil Wayne floats this observation shortly past the halfway point of his 13th album, and a litany of connotations can be elucidated. There’s a literal interpretation: Funeral is a rather long project, and by the time we get to its 17th track out of 24 total, it has indeed been something of a journey. Sure, okay. On a metaphorical level, it’s a typical Weezy stunt about the vast opulence of his mansion, so nothing really new in that reading either. Alright, whatever. But if we were to take this statement and apply it to a specific historical context — that being Wayne’s career as a whole — then there is a reckoning that seems obvious: Wayne’s bildungsroman, tracing his involvement as the youngest member of the Hot Boys to becoming the self-proclaimed “greatest rapper alive” to his recent lost decade, is itself something of a sustained journey.
Somehow the rapper is only 37, and he’s still going — a rarity in hip-hop, especially in an industry that’s predicated on completely exploiting young artists’ value in the span of a few months. He’s been doing this his whole life, to the point that rapping is his life in a way it can’t be for others; he’s driven to be the best not for superfluous reasons, but because he sincerely believes that’s what he was born to do. He’s been through heaven and hell, has probably expected everyone to have written him off some time ago, and is attempting to rise to the occasion once again to prove everyone wrong — and with a title like Funeral, one could presume something of a defeatist ethos. Those fears, however warranted, have thankfully been laid to rest as the almost 90 minutes worth of material here serves as a reaffirmation of his overall excellence, and anyone who’s not already on board has mercifully been left behind — as guest Big Sean puts it best, “if you in my way, then I gotta go through you.” Better put, Wayne should have titled this one I Am Not A Human Being; here, he’s immortal, back from the dead, and any burial is reserved for the remaining skeptics.
In fact, a yet more appropriate title (if he hadn’t already used this one as well) would have been Rebirth, as Wayne continues to find new and exciting ways to reinvent and re-discover his ability as an MC. Like The Carter series before it, Funeral engages with the album format less as a prestigious final product and more as an empty canvas, an approach recalled from a bygone past of centerless mixtape-oriented releases that now somehow works best in our playlist-friendly streaming era. So consider this a fresh slate, a chance to once again start new, and the joys of listening to Wayne rap will never be clearer: his penchant for crafting dizzying, densely constructed punchline wordplay is represented here with such harmonious ease that it’s easy to write off the tone as insouciant. On “Bing James,” Weezy elongates and over-emphasizes his ending syllables, so that they start to sound like throat chants, and his slurred, slick cadence on “Know You Know” imbues each sound with the sense that there’s just too much joyous conviviality between him, Jay Rock, and 2 Chainz for any actual technique to come into play. And yes, as is the case with every Wayne project, there are some rather goofy moments that don’t amount to much other than filling time between the more awe-inspiring segments (“I Don’t Sleep,” “Sights and Silencers,” and “Trust Nobody”). But, as usual, even in these moments when it seems that Wayne’s not really even trying, he never sounds like he shouldn’t be saying the exact word he’s saying — even though he often sounds like he’s just making it up as he goes. Like any great artist, he makes the hard part seem easy.
But when he’s simply spazzing for the sake of it — again, proving everyone wrong — the results are still sumptuous. There’s the opening one-two punch of “Mahogany” and the industrial “Mama Mia” — one where he subtly shades his former prodigy Drake (“Got real bitches with fake asses / With real views and fake eyes”) and jests Akon regarding his darkened skin tone. Both are mini-spectacles of paronomasia, tracks that stagger with with the sheer number of woozily high-concept double-to-triple entendres as gifts to the listener (a favorite: “I’m out of my Gucci, you not on my Gucci, that’s not an exclusive / Designers, excuse me, massagers masseuse me / Oops, I mean masseuses massage me, I’m gruesome, I’m grimey”). There’s a laser-focused immediacy and precision here; he doesn’t just sound like he’s on point, but he brings a presence that suggests he’s the very reason the point ever existed. “Ball Hard” plays the typical Dada-ist word association games Tuneche’s famous for, somehow getting from Black Chyna to Kobe “Black Mamba” Bryant to Lady Gaga to Rihanna, and ending with a touching shout-out to Sinéad O’Connor on the chorus. “I Do It” starts with a scintillating Lil Baby verse — one practically dripping with pure swagger — and a surprisingly well-worked Big Sean hook (one that gets that he’s only ever sounded cool when stretching vowels from short, simple phrases), all before Wayne takes center stage: he proceeds to switch his flow up three different times in the span of a few minutes, compares the trio to the Three Stooges, and vaunts that “I got money from 2002, that I ain’t seen since 2002.” That line was a little bit of a joke; Wayne makes a lot of them here. To be fair, he probably has seen that residual.
While Wayne indulges heavily in this lyrical play throughout, he never compromises his music’s listenability. That he manages to hop on such a wide array of diverse sounds is admirably forward-thinking, a proficient old-head willing to learn and improve his techniques from the guidance of youngsters. The emo-laments of “Bastard (Satan’s Kid)” and “Get Outta My Head” feel indebted to the scuzzy lo-fi ethos of Florida-based SoundCloud rap, with figure-head/semi-icon XXXTentacion showing up to make the missing link more obvious. Murda Beatz — the white kid who’s best known for helping the Migos become famous — gets a cool moment on “Line Em Up,” setting it up with a vociferous Omnisphere horn effect that works in tandem with a stammering Sindhi vocal sample, which serves as budding fanfare. And on the punky, manic, coke-fueled “Dreams,” he indulges in some belted utterances that themselves work out to be jokes (“I live the American dream, huh / Foreign everything, huh”) while also noting the abundance of “fucking Weezys” his influence has produced and cultivated. None are featured here (unless you count Lil Twist) and none could likely keep up with the breakneck pace at which Wayne operates, as he merrily barrels along in a space devoid of artistic interference. As he beautifully puts it on “Wayne’s World” — a song where there’s a “Wayne’s World!” ad-lib and Wayne responds with “party time, excellent,” just so you know that he’s definitely not above doing this sort of thing — we are just guests in the universe of one Dwayne Michael Carter. In turn, we should be appreciative that he’s allowed us to exist as visitors in a realm rife with so much untouched creativity, one with so much promise for the future as he boldly enters into the third decade of his profession with the same vigor he’s had since his first. It really has been quite the journey.
Published as part of What Would Meek Do? | Q2 2020 Issue – Part 2.