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Tha Carter V is the twelfth studio album by American rapper Lil Wayne. It was released on September 28, 2018, by Young Money Entertainment, Republic Records and Universal Music Group.
The long-delayed album captures Wayne how we want to remember him: openhearted, word-drunk, and exhilarated by the possibilities of his own voice.
e can only imagine what Tha Carter V might have sounded like in 2014 when Lil Wayne first announced it was finished. We’ll never know how many Trinidad James features that shelved draft of the album might have included, or what kind of play on “Blurred Lines” Wayne might have made, or which words he might have rhymed with Gotye. That album probably wouldn’t have been very good, and it almost certainly wouldn’t have been as rewarding or revealing as the belated final product that a humbled Wayne presented on his 36th birthday, after the four most trying years of his career.
Lil Wayne was already mired in a brutal slump when the bottom fell out. Overexposed and uninspired, he’d become so resigned to his dwindling relevance after years of repeating the same jokes that he’d even stopped calling himself the greatest rapper alive. Then, for reasons that still aren’t completely clear, his mentor and father figure Birdman turned on him, refusing to release the album and all but holding his career hostage amid bitter contractual disputes. The two reconciled this year, but the hurt and betrayal are harrowingly documented on 2015’s Sorry 4 The Wait II, the most impassioned of Wayne’s otherwise lifeless 2010s mixtapes.
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Despite the toll those wilderness years took on him, it may have been for the best that Tha Carter V was delayed so long. It’s hard to imagine the rapper who’d released the dreadful I Am Not a Human Being II just a few months prior could have crafted an album this tactful and heartfelt. There’s a degree of quality control on Carter V that nobody could have expected from a 2018 Lil Wayne record, let alone a nearly 90-minute one.
Tha Carter V Is Lil Wayne’s Best Album in Years
Lil Wayne is one of the most successful rappers of all time by any measure, a mercurial once-in-a-lifetime talent who found his calling before he hit puberty and has been a public figure since he was a teenager. The reign was never a cakewalk; it’s possible to live your dreams and still be racked with adversity and doubt. Wayne’s Tha Carter V, the latest installment in the Louisiana rapper’s running series of epochal blockbuster studio albums, should be a celebration, and it often is. The lengthy legal proceedings that tied the album up for the last four years are over, and Wayne is rapping with the bullish bluster of someone who has rediscovered his purpose. But the diminutive rap dynamo born Dwayne Carter still seems haunted. Sadness doesn’t care what your bona fides are. Detractors don’t disappear when you’re on the right path. Beneath the dizzying wordplay and the ghoulish gallows humor, Tha Carter V is an album about perseverance, about securing and defending prosperity no matter the cost.
The most anticipated rap album of this half of the decade opens and closes with a mother’s tears. Twenty-two tracks after “I Love You Dwayne” kicks C5 off with a somber prayer from Wayne’s mother Jacida Carter, the closer “Let It All Work Out” luridly recounts the story of the day a 12-year-old Dwayne got his hands on his mother’s pistol and nearly ended it all. This isn’t nearly the first telling — see: Solange’s “Mad” — but this time, Wayne approaches it the way a preacher recites the gospel, teeming with the light of glory snatched from the darkest despair. British singer Sampha intones the title of the track in the background like wisdom gleaned from a timeworn sample. The message is simple: Stay. Fight. Live. But Ms. Carter’s tears and Wayne’s own verses about acquaintances turning on him and strangers thirsting for an end to his reign suggest that staying prolific and positive is a tough task. C5 examines Wayne’s triumphs and tragedies with uncommon candor, lighting the way for anyone else who feels like hope is dimming.
The magic of Lil Wayne in shipshape is that Tha Carter V can be a document of hardships and also a laugh riot, sometimes in the stretch of the same verse. There’s sex jokes and cartoon violence in the middle of the reverent, reflective “Took His Time” and snot gags in the solemn daddy-daughter duet “Famous.” Wayne is one of the architects of modern hip-hop’s manic sprawl. A decade ago, a flurry of insane, indomitable mixtapes and guest spots carried him from the arrogant young veteran prematurely proclaiming himself “Best Rapper Alive” on Tha Carter II to a technician stealing tracks out from under established rap heroes on projects like 2007’s seminal Da Drought 3. Overkill is Wayne’s sharpest weapon, and Carter V is one of few movie-length rap releases this year that justifies stretching beyond the 80-minute mark. The unspoken task of the Carter albums is to present Wayne not just as a jack-of-all-trades but a master of each one. C5 makes as strong of a play of it as could be expected. There are perhaps too many songs, but there’s enough intrigue everywhere to make it tough to suggest where to cut.
As sharp as Wayne’s performances are throughout the album, the pacing is a little jarring, and the beats don’t all stand out. “Problems” takes the least interesting Zaytoven production in a year where the Atlanta beatmaker turned in some of his best work on Future’s BEAST MODE 2. “Open Safe”’s Mustard snap is shockingly simplistic in a season where the same guy gave YG much spicier sounds, like Stay Dangerous’s “Bomptown’s Finest” and “Big Bank.” “Start This Shit Off Right” is a solid two-step anthem, but the track feels like like a loosie someone discovered on a reel from 2004. With an album that’s been gestating as long as Tha Carter V has — Wayne started talking about it six years ago — it’s tempting to chalk the dated bits and the less than bright spots up to the sense that a good piece of this thing has been rotting in Birdman’s vault for the last four years.
Tha Carter V being something of a nostalgia act plays weirdly in an era so purely defined by Lil Wayne’s influence. Drake, modern hip-hop’s biggest hitmaker, came to rap celebrity as a ward of Cash Money Records. Kendrick Lamar, perhaps our sharpest thinker, once rhymed over Carter 3 instrumentals and called the mixtape C4. Young Thug, our most delightful weirdo, pressed Wayne in 2015 by naming an excellent album Barter 6. It’s hard to imagine Future and Lil Uzi Vert’s music coming out the way it has without impish early Auto-Tune rap tracks like “Lollipop” and “I Can’t Believe It.” Barring the Kendrick spot, Tha Carter V presents a world where most of these developments never happened. Maybe Wayne doesn’t need them. Travis Scott seems redundant in the presence of rap’s master mumbler on “Let It Fly.” (Really, the only rapper that really gets a piece of him here is Snoop Dogg. Kendrick comes close and then disappears into histrionics.) Maybe it was important to keep outside interference at a minimum. The stretches where Lil Wayne carries Tha Carter V brilliantly on his own go a long way in silencing years-old whispers that his best years were in his rear view. The result is his strongest work since 2009’s No Ceilings. He has suggested that this would be his last album in the past. He’d be nuts to stop now.