ALBUM REVIEW: Lil Wayne - Tha Carter V
Writer: Kyle Wheelock
Attention all readers, this is not a drill. That’s right, you saw the article title, Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V was finally released this past Friday after years of delay and legal battles. First announced back in November 2012 as the rap legend’s final album, Tha Carter V was pushed back repeatedly, with Wayne releasing mixtape after mixtape in the meantime, all telling us, “Tha Carter V coming soon.” However, in 2015 after the releases of Sorry 4 the Wait 2 and No Ceilings 2, people (a.k.a. a few people online) started dubbing Wayne as washed and past his prime. And, I won’t lie, I was cool off Wayne music too by that point, I just wasn’t interested.
If you somehow haven’t heard the story behind Tha Carter V, it’s important; I need to set the scene. Tha Carter V has been delayed for 3 years now with no signs of any release in sight, and Wayne’s last few outings have been pretty meh. Then, at the tail end of 2017, Lil Wayne dropped Dedication 6, 54 minutes of heat that showed (most of) the internet that Wayne still was a legend, an influence for this newer wave of artists (or, at least according to the internet. I personally believe that people like Chief Keef are more directly influential to the newer rappers, but that’s a conversation for another time), and still capable of dropping a solid project front to back.
To top it off, whatever doubts people still had about Wayne’s skillset after Dedication 6, they were doused yet again when he came back with Dedication 6: Reloaded not even a week later, which was at least as good, if not better. So now here we are, the album was announced on September 25 and released for real this time on the 28. And, after going through it a couple of times it’s...pretty ok. Just ok.
The album starts with a really heartfelt and tearful intro from his mom that made me want to pause the album and call my own mom and then transitions into, “Don’t Cry,” which has the late XXXTentacion on the hook and it had to grow on me At first, I didn’t like the way X sounded on the hook when he was singing that, “Don't goooo,” part, but after hearing it over and over again, it grew on me. But the next two tracks, “Dedicate,” and, “Uproar,” are just ok (hearing Swizz Beatz production again is fun, even if it sounds like the “Special Delivery,” beat). They aren’t bad by any means, but they aren’t exactly great either. I could honestly take them or leave them, which isn’t usually inherently a bad thing, but considering this album is 23 songs long, it’s kind of a knock. Track 5, “Let It Fly,” features a 2014-15 era Travis Scott sound from back when he still had the dollar sign in his name. It’s dark, moody, and not quite as polished and poppy as anything on Astroworld, a.k.a. it was recorded in 2014. It’s like a perfect snapshot of the Travis I got hooked on, and hearing that Travis on a proper track with Wayne is definitely a highlight.
“Can’t Be Broken,” feels like a late 2000s Eminem pop-rap song, and I’m not exactly a fan of that whole sound. The follow-up track, “Dark Side of the Moon,” featuring Nicki Minaj, surprised me mainly because of Nicki’s vocal performance; it’s clear and powerful and R&B-ish in a way. It undoubtedly stands out, which is what you need in a 23-track album. Now this is the part where I go left: “Mona Lisa,” while it is funny (the whole, “I treat her halo like a frisbee,” bar got a bigger laugh out of me than it should’ve), while it does have a consistent story present, AND while it does have a Kendrick Lamar feature...it sounded pretty average. I don’t know if it’s the subject or the beat, but the song doesn’t do much for me.
By this point, we’re 7 songs (and 1 intro) into this album, and only 3 are really standing out to me, which isn’t a TERRIBLE ratio, but it also isn’t a great one either, especially considering the quality of Wayne’s previous projects. And that’s really the theme of the next 8 consecutive tracks, nothing awful but nothing amazing either (save for maybe, “Took His Time,” because that’s a really solid song). It’s just ok. It isn’t until we get to track 17 that the quality of the album steps up considerably and stays that way. “Start This Shit Off Right,” to me feels like it came out of Tha Carter III vault, but that’s not a bad thing at all. It gives me similar vibes to, “Comfortable,” off of that album, but I can’t for the life of me explicitly say why.
As I said, every track after “Start This Shit Off Right,” is, at worst, pretty good, and at best amazing like the song, “Used 2.” In it, Wayne reflects on his old ways, his growth with these hard-sounding lines over a Metro Boomin track (the, “I feel like Ivan Drago lil bitch, and if he dies, he dies,” bit just makes me want to commit a series of petty crimes). And then of course, there's the closing track, “Let It All Work Out,” which deserves it’s own article.
“Let It All Work Out,” is probably the most open, personal, and revealing Lil Wayne song I’ve heard in a looooong time, if not ever. Any hip-hop head will be able to tell you about the story where Lil Wayne accidentally shot himself in the chest when he was young and the impact that had on him; he’s talked about it repeatedly, and it’s an event that’s clearly shaped his life. But on this closing track, Wayne comes out and basically tells the world that the story wasn’t entirely true; for his entire life, he’s told everyone it was an accident, but as it turns out, it was on purpose; that moment was a suicide attempt. Again, anyone who knows that story will understand the weight of this. It was chilling to hear the entire song unfold the way it did, with the part about him calling his aunt before, and the hesitation he initially had.
This track, in particular, shows how much Wayne has matured over the years. Granted, I don’t know when any of these songs were recorded outside of the Travis feature, so this closing song could’ve been put together back in 2014 before he went through all the legal troubles that he did in trying to even get this album released. But the point I'm trying to make here is that at the time when Wayne originally announced this album, it was supposed to be his last ever, so coming to terms with things like his family, fatherhood, and the now-revealed suicide attempt show both maturity and personal growth, because those aren’t light things you just decide to open up to the world about. Quality-wise, The Carter V is largely a mixed bag that really gets going in the final stretch. Lyrically, Wayne is still Wayne as far as punchlines and wordplay go (he definitely established that on the opener), but this time there’s a bit more depth to his subject matter here. So if this really is the last Lil Wayne album we ever hear, I feel like we got a pretty satisfying check in on Wayne’s life and state of mind.
TL;DR: Tha Carter V is pretty ok, maybe above average at best. Definitely doesn’t need to be 23 tracks long.
Highlights: “Don’t Cry,” “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Took His Time,” “Start This Shit Off Right,” “Used 2.”