A GOAT's fifth installment: "Tha Carter V"
Lil Wayne is as much a part of the rap game as an 808-drum machine. The artist who built his career on such cuts as “Lollipop” and “A Milli” is finally back with a bona fide studio album after years of legal sparring with former mentor Bryan “Birdman” Williams. With the exception of his Tidal-exclusive release “Free Weezy Album” and his plethora of mixtapes, fans haven’t heard the wordsmith in earnest since 2013’s “I Am Not A Human Being II.” It’s been a long five years, and the game Wayne was used to running laps around has changed significantly. His imitators have record deals and seemingly every new rapper has taken up the “Lil” designation.
In a crowded market focused on cadence, Wayne’s continued lyrical prowess helps “Tha Carter V,” the latest installment of the series that made him a legend, rise above the noise. The impassioned opener “I Love You Dwayne,” a recording from Wayne’s mother, hints at a more mature direction than the party-driven discourse of his last effort.
The next 22 songs following the opening interlude are a roller coaster of quotable lines. Wayne rattles off rhymes like a warbling Lollapalooza subwoofer. At times he’s chest-thumping, as with the one-two punch of “Dedicate” and “Uproar.” Other moments find Wayne reflective and moody, with guests XXXTentacion and Nicki Minaj on “Don’t Cry” and “Dark Side of the Moon,” respectively. At other times, he’s just plain insane. The song with which listeners will take their time is the Kendrick Lamar-assisted “Mona Lisa.” It’s a hectic account of a woman who sets up her boyfriend for robbery: “she give us the word and we come through with AKs.” Both rappers go off the rails on their bars, their collective anger seeping between the lines like an overturned inkwell. The song’s title refers to the ambiguous smile in DaVinci’s painting of the same name, expressing human duality. It’s a crude and violent effort worth deep study.
Praise for the album has been resounding, with Vulture’s Craig Jenkins going so far as to call it “Wayne’s best album in years.” The acclaim is well-deserved. In a sea of mumble rap and repeated choruses, Wayne is a callback to a bygone era where a rapper was quantified by his ability to spit. Wayne was a product of his peers and had the dexterity to compete in a market with 50 Cent, Jay-Z and an early Kanye West. Today, artists are defined by their ability to create viral moments and engage producers like Murda Beatz and Metro Boomin. It’s not the world Wayne was born into, but it’s a world he can still navigate by staying in the lane that got him here.
Wayne rises above on “Tha Carter V” because he was the first of his kind. The tattoos and dreads that now run rampant were his staple, the double cup of promethazine and codeine, his drink of choice. The new rappers grew up on Wayne like their parents grew up on Tupac and Biggie, so it only makes sense that the father of a movement would still be its preeminent spokesperson. Is “Tha Carter V” the end of an era? Probably. But it’s an era we will perpetually call back to in the years to come.