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Lil Wayne – Tha Carter V Review

September 29, 2018 | Posted by David Hayter
Lil Wayne
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Lil Wayne – Tha Carter V Review  

1. I Love You Dwayne
2. Don’t Cry f. XXXTENTACION
3. Dedicate
4. Uproar
5. Let It Fly f. Travis Scott
6. Can’t Be Broken
7. Dark Side of the Moon f. Nicki Minaj
8. Mona Lisa f. Kendrick Lamar
9. What About Me f. Sosamann
10. Open Letter
11. Famous f. Reginae Carter
12. Problems
13. Dope Niggaz f. Snoop Dogg
14. Hittas
15. Took His Time
16. Open Safe
17. Start This Shit Off Right f. Ashanti & Mack Maine
18. Demon
19. Mess
20. Dope New Gospel f. Nivea
21. Perfect Strangers
22. Used 2
23. Let It All Work Out

Free at last, free at last, good god almighty, Lil Wayne is free at last. No longer burdened by his label or beholden to Birdman, the rapper is finally free to…oh…retire? For the time being let’s dismiss the retirement talk out of hand. Tha Carter V may be loaded with finality and past tense reflections on a long career, but it is impossible to take rap retirements seriously when Jay-Z and Eminem are still releasing records and selling out arenas years after they handed in their notice.

This is unlikely to be Wayne’s swansong, but it is a landmark release: it bears a legendary name and oozes the kind of gravitas absent from Wheezy’s post-2008 projects. Sadly, it’s worth saying at the outset that, in keeping with seemingly every major hip hop album released this year, Tha Carter V is far, far, far too long. This collection is full of merit, rich in charisma and pleasingly varied in tone and intent, but all those qualities would be better preserved within a 40 or 50 minute run time, rather than a meandering 90.

Whether Wayne is simply naïve, possessing no filter (his incessant output would suggest as much) or if his label are cynically trying to manipulate the chart algorithms matters little – the damage has been done, we can only accepted it and move on. Wayne’s hulking opus can be roughly divided into two clear templates: bad boy, stick ‘em up, womanising pseudo-gangsta rap jams and heartfelt reflection on his life, family, mortality and self-destructive nature. The two are of course linked and at times both compliment and contradict one another, but there are clearly distinct moments where Wayne is either bullshitting to impress or exposing his vulnerabilities to soothe his psyche.

Wayne explains it succinctly himself on the brilliant “Famous”: “All I ever wanted was everybody’s attention/Cause most people are nobody ‘til somebody kill ‘em”. Speaking ostensibly to his mother, the rapper proffers that the lies he’s spun, the villainy he’s perpetrated and controversy he’s embroiled himself in, were all in the name of escaping the anonymity of poverty. He did it for himself (of course), but also for his family, specifically the women who raised him (whose voice is a key feature of the LP). So sure, he’s talks shit for a living, but it’s sure better than a life spent shovelling it.

Whether this is justification for espousing some of the worst and most damaging clichés in rap history – he cheats on his wife, threatens to fuck your girl, carelessly waves guns in people’s faces and far, far worse – is up to each individual listener to decide. At times, when Wayne pleads for forgiveness, commitment and stability from his girlfriends and ex-wives, you’ll find yourself screaming: “well maybe you shouldn’t have spent the first half of the album bragging about your legion of mistresses, eh Wheezy? How can you expect anyone to trust you? Do you not listen to your own records?”

At times, Tha Carter V compares unfavourable with Kanye West’s Ye, where the Chicago rapper excoriated himself for ruining his wife’s life and business with his appalling behaviour and lack of impulse control. Ye presented the image of a man tortured by guilt, horrified that his daughter might one day fall for a man just like him, Wayne, by way of comparison, wants to have his cake and eat it too: he wants our admiration and our sympathy while still sneaking, cheating, hustling and pushing. Despite their respective merits, neither man seem incapable of meaningful change.

Now that’s not to say the gangster rap portions of the album are a let down, far from it: the single best track on the album comes in the form of Wayne’s most heartless and horrifying moment. The Kendrick Lamar assisted “Mona Lisa” is a masterpiece. Wayne exposes himself as a conscience-devoid deviant who uses a string of female soldiers to rob men blind. But this is no fuck, suck and rob job, Wayne want these hapless marks to fall head over heels in love with his honeytraps – so he can strip them of every last thing they cherish (including their sanity). Wayne concludes his narrative with a harrowing first person account (deep breath):

“We’re waiting outside/Watch him pull up/Walk up to the door and right before he knocks, she open the door naked/Left it unlocked/They started French kissing so they didn’t see moi/Then she let him in, they starting on the couch/Music up loud with his head in the clouds/Turn the shit down and I scare the piss out him/Piss a nigga off put the gun to his frown/”Nigga turn around”/”I ain’t here to fuck around”/”Caught ya with ya pants down”/”You know what it is, put your hands up”/”Lise that’s enough, you can put your hands down”/Then he looked dead at her and shook his head at her/She a good actress, and you a dead actor/You’ll be dead after, we get what we’re after/If she call you daddy, she about to be a bastard”

It’s worth repeating in full because that thrilling first person narrative is delivered in a blistering breathless flow that oozes both criminal control and deranged psychotic intensity. Kendrick wraps the track up with an unhinged verse of his own, this time from the mark’s perspective. He’s still in love, even as his illusions crumble around him. His despair reaching the point where he grabs his gun and takes his own life.

The rest of traditional girls and guns tracks are less harrowing and rarely as dazzlingly, but still wholly enjoyable. “Open Space” is an ice-cold celebration of a life lived without brakes, that sees Wayne gleefully dispensing left-field metaphors and crafty punchlines. “Dope Niggaz” sees Lil Wayne meanders his way across a strangely sun soaked beat before Snoop Dogg cleans up the track with a classic, albeit predictable chorus. “Hittas” is a throwback, a stainless steel bounce is married to soft vocal coos as Wayne brags about the bad men willing to do his bidding. Unfortunately, his usually wild imagery fades towards tedium on the track’s back end. “Uproar” is a far more entertaining, largely because Wayne has to stifle a laugh throughout his entire flow as he switches between throwaway jokes (“I sleep with the gun, and she don’t snore”) and cold eyed threats (“I don’t bluff bro, I aim at your head”).

Elsewhere Wayne attempts to frame his legacy and confront the spectre that haunts him. “Dedicate” sees the rapper twisting his tongue around a knotty flow before proudly claiming his place on the hip-hop pantheon. On “Can’t Be Broken” Wayne inhabits a syrupy, distinctly dated, but strangely haunting arrangement. He details how he cannot be broken by any modern day drama or petty threat: after all, he survived the utter deprivation of his youth, today he’s backed by the finest lawyers and scariest goons money can buy – so what is there to be afraid of?

The answer comes quickly on the yet more powerful “Open Letter”. The arrangement is hard and sparse; there are no cloying attempts to tug at your heartstrings, only Wayne, alone, left to stew in his own psyche and search for meaning. He’s plunges into alcoholism and numbs himself with proscription pills as he struggles to communicate with his loved ones and stumbles aimlessly from thrill-to-thrill, contemplating his inevitable death. Wayne is painfully aware of how alive he is, in fact he feels strangely invulnerable, despite knowing at any moment he could be treading on his own grave. It would seem it is his curse to linger on this clinically induced purgatory.

“Mess” is another sneaky revelation. Wayne strikes a sad boy pose, but explodes with energy in a syllable slicing verse that highlights how his chaotic personal life is the result of a thrilling rollercoaster ride of pure hedonism that represents his daily routine. His normalcy is instability. Anyone who wants to be close to him has to accept that fact. Of course Wayne can express this articulately, but that doesn’t mean he can harness his own wisdom. On “Dope New Gospel” Wheezy reveals that he’s haunted by the man he sees in the mirror each morning: who is this aging, drug riddled spectre staring back at him, bearing the scars of his every sin and thoughtless decision?

To compliment these introspective turns there are a selection of listless moans (“Problems”, “Don’t Cry”, “Demon”) designed to capture Wayne’s unanchored depression. Sadly, while they serve a solid narrative purpose, they are painful drags on an already gargantuan LP. It’s a shame, because Wayne is perfectly capable of expressing these sentiments clearly and concisely. “Perfect Strangers” possesses a simple narrative: the image of pair of lovers packing their bags and sleeping around as they grow further apart is far more expressive than any groan-addled, Weeknd-aping, blur of beige emotion could ever hope to be.

After so much soul searching and body snatching where does Tha Carter V leave Wayne? If “Used 2” is to be believed, he’s spinning wild rhymes and telling tall tales with his gun in a shit talking rival’s mouth. Old habits die hard it would seem, but that’s the point. Wayne might be a legend of the rap game, but he’s still chained to the bad decisions and crippling addictions that have wreaked havoc on his personal life for the past two decades. Wayne is haunted and resilient, but captured by a cruel internal logic: if he survived and thrived in such horrifying poverty, why should he change now, when he is free roll around in his riches?

It’s a fair argument, but it doesn’t convince. Tha Carter V reveals a lonely and isolated superstar, terrified of his own reflection, struggling to reconcile the fleeting thrills of his day-to-day existence with an existential ache he simply can’t shake. In the album’s final minute Wayne succumbs and attempts suicide. He fails and takes it as a blessing from God. He seems resigned to let the universe work it self out rather than actively making a single adjustment of his own – and that may be the greatest tragedy of all: even with all the wisdom of age, this leopard is incapable of changing his spots.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Tha Carter V may be infuriatingly long, but no amount of bloated filler can suppress an album overflowing with creativity and crippled by self-doubt. Wayne is opening himself up, tackling the demons that haunt him and the hedonistic crutches that sadly ensure that he will never truly change. The crafty chaotic flows are all there and so is his madcap flair for an unexpected metaphor, but, ultimately, it's Wayne's introspective turn that truly wins the day. Tha Carter V is essential listening, even if its endless tracklist cripples its final score.

article topics :

Lil Wayne, David Hayter