After 5 long years, Tha Carter V is here. I was going to wait to do a full review but I’m too excited and curious. Will C5 see Wayne in dedication 2 mode? Will it feature more poppy smashes like Tha Carter 3? Does Wayne still have it or has he been surpassed by the new era of rappers he so clearly influenced? Should I shut the fuck up and get to it? Yes.
This is by no means a fair and balanced music review, it takes multiple listens and concentration to give a fair review to an album, especially one with this much history, development time, and content on it. Disclaimer done, let’s listen to this (hopefully) masterpiece.
I Love you Dwayne (ft. Jacida Carter)
Lil Wayne’s mom talks about him in a shockingly emotional opener. She thanks Wayne and describes him as her “rock”. She talks about wanting this album to come out and how Wayne has helped the family throughout his life through choking back tears. It caught me off guard. Any mother crying will definitely slice to your core. It’s similar to December 4th on Jay-Z’s The Black Album but far more poignant. And I’m happy it wasn’t a voicemail, good lord I’m tired of that shit.
Don’t Cry (ft. XXX Tentatacion)
This is a perplexing first song. You think Wayne would kick things off with something energetic to get things going but the transition works after the emotional intro. What does not work is the XXX Tentacion hook. It’s an off-key, droning, ill-conceived vocal from the late singer, and it feels like they put it in here for the clout rather than the quality. The rest of the song is good and I like Lil Wayne’s flow and the unexpected way the album starts. If this is a running theme throughout the project I’m definitely intrigued because I didn’t expect a Lil Wayne album to make me feel things.
THE LIGHTER FLICK. This is what I was looking for. An H-town chopped and screwed vocal sample and sleepy piano give Wayne the perfect backing music to take shots at this new wave of Soundcloud rappers. Anybody who thought he didn’t have bars anymore is proven completely wrong by the first two verses. It’s non-stop and effortless. “I started this shit, you borrowed this shit” Yeah it’s pretty clear he’s harbored some resentment watching his clones be worse versions of him. This song bangs. It’s punctuated with a quote of Obama saying “our kids can’t all aspire to be Lebron or Lil Wayne,” just to drive the point home.
A Swizz Beatz Boom Bap old school beat and a Wayne flow to match. This is a fun party song and this instrumental could be from any Swizz Beatz song from any point in time in his career. The laid-back flow with the high energy beat is interesting. This will be a club banger to keep us warm this winter.
Let it Fly
If “Dedicate” was a middle finger to the Soundcloud rappers, Let it Fly is acknowledging to the new king of auto-tune. Travis brings his A-game on his verse, clearly aware of who he’s sharing the spotlight with, and is still blown out of the water.
Front line, you crossed the line and you better know your lines
And if you gettin’ out of line, I hang you with a clothing line
Wring you like an open line, keep your stanky ho in line
Them hoe’s be lying, it’s a thin line, I know you know the line
Second line, second line, Tunechi got effective lines
He is not to be fucked with on this project.
This one starts with a familiar chipmunk soul sample that I can’t place right now. It has a somber vibe but the verses are all rapid-fire mixtape bars. Another song with impeccable delivery and too many fire lines to quote. The lyrical content and the beat don’t really match but ehh I don’t care, the bars are fugeo.
Dark Side of the Moon (feat. Nicki Minaj)
The first ballad on the album, well, more of a duet with Nick Minaj. Wayne sings/raps with a lot of space and love metaphors and a really, really catchy melody. Nicki surprisingly sings the entire time and holy shit, I forgot she has some pipes. This works way better than it should. Even though the lyrics are corny (“Intergalactical love”, not a word) the arrangements and the vocals are nice. 5 stars, pun intended.
Mona Lisa (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
The collab I’ve been dreaming of for years. This is the spiritual successor to “Da Art of Storytellin'” series by Outkast. Lil Wayne is out of his mind on this verse, both telling a story of how he got this woman (Mona Lisa) to finesse a man by getting him caught up in the pussy while Wayne was controlling her the whole time, eventually following the couple to her house and robbing and killing the man who let his guard down. Kendrick’s verse describes a love lost to a woman who couldn’t remain faithful because she was fucking…Kendrick and Wayne. So the man in question kills himself. While the plots aren’t particularly intriguing, the storytelling is.
What About Me (feat. Sosamann)
Love song #2 on the album. I’m not really feeling this one. Wayne is auto-crooning to a girl who moved on from their relationship. He’s trying to be vulnerable but it comes off as whiny and selfish. Sosamann is more of the same. You can skip this one.
A booming instrumental and minimal synths put Lil Wayne’s voice front and center. He talks about family and trying to guide them while being….him. And questions his mortality “what is my meaning? My reason?” before talking about naked bitches “Sometimes I make my rubber wear a rubber” lmao. I’m not sure what he’s going for here, his raps are pretty good but his content is all over the place. It’s supposed to be a heavy song but it comes off banal and corny.
Famous (feat. Reginae Carter)
Wayne’s daughter adds a pretty poorly sung chorus but her presence brings the best out of Lil Wayne. As opposed to the last track, this actually has a message with Lil Wayne reflecting on his career in a poignant way. He’s got some great one-liners “you can’t spell FAME without ME” “I was your main man until I went mainstream”.
A spacey, drugged out beat with some KNOCKING bass. It feels like I’m floating in the International Space Station. It’s a perfect Wayne beat but his flow is somewhat hurried and doesn’t match as well as it should. There are times on this album where he sacrifices flows for lyrics, it’s almost like he has TOO much to say, which is understandable. Either way, I need to bump this in my car like yesterday. Good song.
Dope N****z (feat. Snoop Dogg)
God DAMN – that beat switch up! It starts out with a simple piano beat then swaps it for a chopped and screwed XXXplosive sample that is buttery smooth. Wayne tap dances on this beat and absolutely kills it. That bass breakdown is unbelievable. Snoop swoops in for a few bars and adds to the vibe, then gets out before slowing things down too much. Great production, great concept. This is probably my favorite song so far.
“Money in the air, who said white men can’t jump?” “AK-47 make a sitting duck stand up” – OK the couplets and the bars on this one are on another level. This is a hybrid Carter 2 and Carter 3 style song, albeit with more melody to make it sound modern. But his wordplay on this one is fucking crazy.
Took his Time
“He’s a genius, I can’t teach him nothing. It’s like he’s been here before.” Jacida kicks off this song before the booming bass and somber piano sample come in. Wayne just murders this beat and adds some solid melodies for good measure. I was worried I was in for a melodramatic slog but I’m enjoying the hell out of this. It’s slow but not overly so.
Awwwww shit, A DJ Mustard beat. I’m all in for this one. Wayne sounds higher than gas prices for the first verse but starts to wake up about halfway through and matches the energy. He ends spitting like a machine gun which makes this sound like two different songs. I’m confused yet strangely aroused at the same time.
Start This S**t Off Right (feat. Ashanti & Mack Maine)
Ohhhh OK, this is why Mack Maine isn’t allowed on many songs. He had so little to do and still manages to overdo it. This Mannie Fresh beat is too old school, it sounds like a late 90s hot boyz instrumental, especially with Ashanti featured on the track. The mixing on this song is terrible, Wayne sounds like he’s in a well, Ashanti’s voice is not up to par, Mack Maine sucks at everything. A rare misfire for this album but if you skip this one, you missed nothing.
What the fuck, this is going to take a few listens. A soulful guitar riff opens the song before Wayne starts going 100 MPH, it doesn’t match until the hi-hat and the bass come in shortly after, then a soul sample (the same one from Isaiah Rashad’s “Heavenly Father” – one of my favorite songs of all time) takes over. It reminds me of “let the beat build” from Carter 3 and it’s insanely abstract. This beat is straight up schizophrenic the way it’s chopped up then rearranged, starting and stopping at will. I will be listening to this one A LOT.
I’m running out of ways to describe songs so forgive me if I get repetitive. A meditative acoustic guitar sample guides this simple but satisfying beat as Lil Wayne again raps his ass off and has a rare moment of self-reflection on the chaotic nature of his life. He talks about himself, his wife, his girlfriend all being a mess, both figuratively and literally. Smoke and chill music.
Dope New Gospel (feat. Nivea)
Wayne takes us to church with choir samples and booming major chords but for some reason, this isn’t doing it for me. This is a Chance the Rapper style beat and Wayne is too disinterested and lazy to make the surrounding energy work. Nivea sounds incredible on the chorus though, I could listen to her sing all day. So-so.
This is one of the better love songs (except dark side of the moon) and I like the concept here of Wayne getting tired of his lifestyle and lamenting his lifestyle of fucking a different girl every night while traveling 24/7. He has to leave due to his lifestyle but has a lingering desire to stay. The babyface piano melody and R&B feel work much better than the other love songs on the album but god damn, please no more.
I’m getting Wayne fatigue at this point, this is a LONG album with a lot of different ideas. But this song finds the rapper at his most manic, starting off freestyling in his signature drawl before getting more and more out of control until he’s screaming/yelping. “If he dies, he dies” he raps as he raps braggadociously – a good mixtape song with solid production values. At the end, Jacida describes Wayne getting shot and drops an absolute bombshell revelation that his “accident” may have been a suicide attempt.
Let It All Work Out
The suicidal revelation on the last song flows into this one. Tunechi talks to himself in the mirror about his drug addictions and his paranoia about the loyalty of the people around him. He confides in a faceless woman about his worries and fears and makes some really personal revelations as he tells the story of finding his mothers gun and attempting suicide by shooting himself in the heart. Like the album’s opener, it’s a really intense emotional rollercoaster of a song. I couldn’t believe how much this one shook my soul.
Overall first impressions
I love this album. Even the brief love songs and missteps can’t overshadow what is a collection of great Lil Wayne songs. I wish he would’ve delved deeper into the two songs that begin and end the album, the emotional bond with his mother and his attempted suicide are really, really powerful. More affecting than anything he’s done before in his career. I haven’t felt that kind of catharsis from a hip-hop album in a while, if ever.
The rest of C5 is Wayne at the top of his game. I will say many of the songs run TOO long, I think the average length is 4.5 minutes, even for the songs that don’t work very well. I know he had 5 years of content but he could’ve used some editing to make the emotional stuff hit even harder than it did (though it’s hard to imagine that). Anyway, it doesn’t disappoint not even in the slightest. Wayne may have been gone for a minute, but he comes back to prove that he’s not ready to pass the torch to his proteges just yet. He’s still on top of his game, the best rapper alive, and if you want his crown you’re gonna have to take it.
Full album review coming soon…