“Thank God Weezy’s back! Order is restored, all is right with the world!”
— from “Dope New Gospel”
Indeed, Weezy’s return feels like a collective sigh of relief. The journey to this moment has been long, dramatic, and exhausting.
First announced in 2012, Tha Carter V was originally expected to be released in 2014. One of the most anticipated releases of Lil Wayne‘s career, the album seemed to be held captive by Cash Money Records and record label bureaucracy; a lawsuit from the New Orleans rapper shortly ensued. Wayne spent a majority of the next 3-4 years taking subliminal shots at the man who, figuratively and literally, helped raise him, as well as releasing numerous mixtapes and a couple of albums, which were passable at best and pitiful at worst.
Fans, like me, assumed that Tha Carter V had become a pipe dream, another album doomed to Hip Hop Limbo like Dr. Dre’s fabled Detox. Wayne’s heartbreaking tweet in 2016 only seemed to confirm that the fifth installment of the iconic album series was mere folklore.
I resolved to get as much enjoyment as possible out of his other mixtapes and albums. There were definitely flashes of brilliance here and there, and Dedication 6 and Dedication 6: Reloaded, which he dropped last December and January respectively, were the closest to Wayne at peak form as I’d heard in years. He appeared to be getting his groove back. I was excited to hear the quality of his future, non-CV releases.
When rumors arose a couple of weeks ago that he was dropping this album on September 21st, I remained skeptical. With no formal confirmation from either Wayne or anyone linked to him, I refused to get my hopes up even a little bit. I was determined to spare myself from imminent disappointment. And sure enough, the 21st day of the month came and went; Tha Carter V did not drop, and everyone except me was surprised and confused.
But four days later, after saying he had a special announcement later in the day, he confirmed a reality that for six years seemed like a fantasy. When he looked into the camera and plainly stated “I will be releasing Tha Carter V on my birthday” the first time, I thought it was a practical joke. Again, I was determined to spare myself from the emotional fall that follows getting one’s hopes up. But when he repeated it a second time, right into the camera, it almost felt like he was speaking to me personally. I smiled. This wasn’t a joke. This was really happening. I was overcome with joy and excitement.
Yet in the midst of my enthusiasm, I had to bring myself back down to earth and temper my expectations. Many times I have anticipated albums from some of my idols, and many times I’ve been disappointed. Hell, many times Wayne himself was the one who disappointed me. Just as a veteran basketball player doesn’t maintain the level of agility or athleticism they held in their prime, I couldn’t expect Wayne to return completely to his mid-late 2000s form.
And to be honest, I didn’t need him to. I just wanted to see Wayne — the same artist who seemed to be held “prisoner” by his label, and complained about being “defenseless and mentally defeated,” and had music listeners doubting whether or not he was mentally, physically, or lyrically stable enough to release another good album — triumph for the first time in a long time.
At about 11:06 pm CST, as I pressed Play on the long-awaited Tha Carter V, I couldn’t help but feel the happiness that a child feels as they open presents on Christmas Day.
Tha Carter V is nothing short of a journey. At an hour and 30 minutes, Wayne treats us to both moments of brilliance and moments of mundanity. The highlight, however, is the relative return of a coherent and lyrically potent Wayne. Moments like “Dedicate” “Let it Fly,” and “Can’t Be Broken” showcase Weezy’s unparalleled ability to flow and concoct interesting rhyme schemes: qualities that have not always been put on display the past ten or so years.
Wayne’s ability to deliver hits hasn’t diminished either. “Start This Sh*t Off Right” and “Uproar” mark two of the albums clear standouts. The former finds Tunechi teaming up with Mack Maine, Ashanti, and Mannie Fresh behind the boards for a catchy party track absolutely saturated with wonderful early-mid 2000s vibes. On the latter, a collaboration with legendary producer Swizz Beatz (the second time they’ve teamed up this year, after their earlier collaboration “Pistol on My Side” ), the smacking beat — an adaptation of G. Dep’s “Special Delivery” — and Tunechi’s energetic presence, will make you want to hit the Harlem Shake.
The placement of Lil Wayne’s mother, Jacida Carter, on CV‘s heartwarming intro and various outros throughout the album add a level of emotional depth absent from the New Orleans rapper’s recent releases. CV proves that Weezy’s ability to tell a story and write resonating lyrics has not waned (pun intended). “Mona Lisa” is an exhibition of vivid storytelling and dizzying lyricism on the part of both Wayne and Kendrick Lamar. At times, both have to reach into their upper registers to add theatricality to their voices and to keep up with their own paces. And “Let It All Work Out,” highlighted by a beautiful Sampha sample, is one of the most poignant moments on the entire album. The song’s third verse sees Wayne reflect on his attempted suicide and how his shocking survival gave him purpose. I was aware of the fact that he had shot himself in his youth, but for years I, as well as many others, was under the impression that it was merely an accident. Thinking about a world in which Wayne had successfully ended his life was a disturbing and incredibly sobering moment. After the song ended and the album finished, I had to pause and ponder to myself: when was the last time Lil Wayne had a verse that moved me like this?
Nevertheless, having had a little bit of time to meditate on the album, some of the album’s pitfalls have become obvious, of which even the highlights can’t blind me to. The album is too long. There is an unneeded amount of filler. A couple of these songs sound a little outdated. Some of the beats are unspectacular. A few of the hooks, especially the poppy ones, are bland.
In a dense list of features, only a few have noteworthy contributions. Other than Kendrick Lamar and Ashanti on the aforementioned “Mona Lisa” and “Start This Sh*t Off Right,” perhaps the most surprising guest appearance came from the Queen from Queens herself, Nicki Minaj. On “Dark Side of the Moon,” Nicki is pushed into a pocket I haven’t heard her in in a long time. When her verse begins close to the 2-minute mark, I was taken aback. Was this really Nicki? She sounds so…soulful? And beautiful? For a moment, I forgot about her questionable antics over the past couple of months and indulged in a charismatic moment that reminded me of the charm that continuously draws me to some of her more sincere performances. A charm that, unfortunately, a lot of other CV features fail to deliver.
Somewhere in this tracklist is a 9-12 song album worthy of at least 4-stars. Somewhere in this tracklist is an EP or album that maybe approaches the majesty of Tha Carter III. But it’s not this album. And that’s okay. I think I’m more happy with the simple fact that Wayne released this album than I am with the actual finished product. And again, that’s okay. I wasn’t necessarily expecting a C2 or a C3. I wasn’t expecting a classic album. I just wanted Wayne to show that he was capable of doing more than tired puns and pussy metaphors. I just wanted Wayne to give us another glimpse of the rapper that has influenced so many artists and captivated so many people. To some extent, I think he did all these things. That alone, at least to me, is enough to lift the heart.