The latest installment of Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter” series illustrates the human side of “the best rapper alive”
October 4, 2018
From the creator of “I Am Not A Human Being” comes an album that both vindicates and contradicts that title. “Tha Carter V” is a major accomplishment—more reason for Lil Wayne’s extraterrestrial self-esteem—but also poignant proof of his humanity.
The album spans 28 tracks heavy with years worth of messages. Dwayne Carter Jr. reflects on his status as the self-proclaimed “best rapper alive,” celebrating success (e.g., “Dedicate,” “Open Safe”), and reprising his role as one of rap’s most skilled wordsmiths. However, tracks such as “I Love You Dwayne” and “Let It All Work Out” sound the most heartfelt and significant.
Jacida Carter tearfully praises her son in a two-minute voicemail in the former (several more of her voicemails appear throughout).
In the latter, Carter contradicts his braggadocious gangster persona: he reveals a suicide attempt and details the religious belief that enabled his self-confidence and recovery.
These leave a lasting impression in their contrast to the lust, sex and obsession Carter describes elsewhere, with powerful introspection.
On “C5,” as Carter nicknames the album, the rapper makes up for lost time and reclaims his “throne.” But the success he describes is complex—not always equivalent to happiness.
We first hear Carter’s lighter flick and inhale, his trademark sample, at the start of “Don’t Cry”—a memorial to XXXTentacion whose voice is posthumously featured. Like the lyrical self-portraits on “C5,” his addresses on all that has happened in his absence range from this somber one to the lyrics of “Dedicate,” the next track, in which he self-describes as the “guru… that sued you to high hell” (a reference to the litigation that delayed his album release), and “Uproar,” with lines such as “where the love go?” and “where the ones go?”
“Dedicate” marks a shift to a more upbeat mood, and includes 2 Chainz’s distorted voice singing Carter’s praises. In addition to 2 Chainz, the album features Swizz Beatz, Travis Scott, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar (a Pulitzer prize winner since Carter’s last release), Sosamann, Snoop Dogg and (very briefly) Drake.
The highlight tracks in which Carter showcases his repertoire are by far “Mona Lisa,” currently the most popular track; “Dark Side of the Moon,” a romantic R&B duet in which the album suddenly turns tender; and the G-Funk “Start This Sh*t Off Right.”
“Dark Side of The Moon” maintains the trap drums of the rest of the album, although relatively understated, and alongside the same murky melody that one might expect from a Daniel Caesar track. Both Carter and Minaj deliver their verses on this dreamy love song slowly and sweetly, for the most part singing rather than rapping, a sharp contrast to the tracks immediately preceding and following.
“Mona Lisa” is also a ballad, but with lyrics that more closely resemble R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” than those of a jazz standard; the track is feature-length at five and a half minutes, and further set apart by the brief silence between Carter and Lamar’s verses.
The two make a rare lyrical pair; the story of street espionage they spin is villainous, enthrallingly detailed, blisteringly quick and twinkles with lyrical moments like those Carter drops in the first verse: “She feed him lies with his silverware/She don’t want love, she just want her share,” and “If Liz call you daddy, she about to be bastard.” The tracks like these that Lil Wayne provides on “C5,” especially in collaboration with names like Lamar, demonstrate Carter remains up-to-speed and dominant in his genre.
In the next track, “What About Me,” Wayne raps longingly to an ex-partner, no longer the boss sending women to seduce targets for robbery from “Mona.” The transition is thus jarring both thematically and sonically, as Sosamann’s verse starts off-key and ends without a positive lyrical contribution. This track delineates the thematic border between the second and third sections of the album. After this point, with exceptions “Problems,” “Dope N*****,” “Hittas,” “Start This Sh*t Off Right” and “Open Safe,” the tracks return to a serious place.
Carter writhes existentially on “Open Letter,” reminisces through disillusionment alongside his daughter on “Famous,” praises himself, his mother, and God on “Took His Time,” laments weak relationships on “Demon” and his lifestyle on “Mess.” Finally, the album takes two turns, up then down, on the uplifting “Dope New Gospel,” and romantically disappointed “Perfect Strangers,” before “Let It All Work Out” does just that.
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