No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to separate Tha Carter V from its turbulent journey to fruition. Record label spats, health issues, sample clearances, scrapped collaborations, you name it; Lil Wayne has gone through hell and back since first announcing Tha Carter V back in 2012. Nevertheless, Wayne triumphs on the sprawling and challenging 23-track album and reminds us why he is one of the greatest rappers of all time.
The Carter album series is Lil Wayne at his best. His wordplay is sharper than ever, his flows are more imaginative, the production is tighter, and he delivers his most vulnerable and anthemic tracks. On Tha Carter V, Wayne opens the ceremonies with his mother’s voice; her timbre rings with that specific timbre of motherhood that immediately centers the album emotionally and thematically. This is an album about the journey through some of the darkest moments in life and finally arriving to paradise.
The late, controversial, and abusive rapper, XXXTentacion, is the first feature on the album. Truthfully, his parts could have been performed by anyone of the mumble rap/Soundcloud era clan. It’s a strong musical introduction to an insane run of excellent tracks. Speaking of features, Kendrick Lamar delivers a show-stealing and show-stopping guest verse on the immaculate “Mona Lisa,” one of the best songs of the year so far. “Dedicate” and “Uproar” feature Wayne in top lyrical and performance form, balancing comic lines with notes of deft realism and wisdom. The two tracks are easily the strongest Wayne solo tracks in ages, and they cement the trope of Southern trap and guitar-inflected rap that Wayne helped introduce to the mainstream so many years ago. On “Can’t Be Broken,” Wayne delivers another inspirational track to his repertoire that previews one of the underlying themes on Tha Carter V: religion and his relationship with God. This thread of vulnerability is woven throughout the record on tracks like “Open Letter” and “Took His Time.”
Lil Wayne has been just as influential on the pop and R&B realms as he has been in hip hop culture and the rap realm. Thus, it is fitting that a sizable chuck of Tha Carter V is focused on sweeter raps with R&B hooks. Nicki Minaj plays hook girl and sings surprisingly well on “Dark Side of the Moon,” Wayne’s daughter, Reginae Carter, provides a solid hook to the very catchy “Famous,” and the massively under-appreciated Nivea anchors the hook of “Dope New Gospel.” In addition, Ashanti brings back her fluttery 00s vocals on the instant earworm, “Start This S**t Off Right.” Other features on the album include Travis Scott on the underwhelming “Let It Fly,” Sosamann on the forgettable “What About Me,” and Snoop Dogg on the formidable “Dope N*****z.”
The main weakness of Tha Carter V is the sheer amount of tracks. This year 20+ track albums like Drake’s Scorpion (read my review here) and Nicki Minaj’s Queen (read my review here) suffered on account of their own weight despite numerous strong tracks. While none of the songs on Tha Carter V are bad, it simply feels like a perverse onslaught of music. Around eight of the tracks on the latter half of the album feel thrown on and don’t fit the overarching narrative. Again, they’re solid songs but they make the album feel muddled and unfocused at times. Regardless, in true Lil Wayne fashion, he ties everything together by the final track (“Let It All Work Out “) with ferocious intensity and unwavering passion. Lil Wayne is finally back, and I don’t think he’ll ever leave again.
Key Tracks: “Uproar,” “Mona Lisa,” “Open Letter,” “Dedicate,” “Let It All Work Out”