Once upon a time, in a seemingly alternate universe, where Bobby Shmurda freely shmoney-danced the streets of New York and the radio was actually a viable source of good music, there was a time before hip-hop fans across the nation lamented and commented, “DROP ASTROWORLD” on every Travis Scott post. This was the time in which hip-hop fans everywhere were counting down every nanosecond they got closer to the release of “Tha Carter V”. Now, the long-awaited “Tha Carter V” has finally been released, but with a gap of seven years since the last “Carter” album, and a release date nearly five years late, many questioned whether the 23-track album from Wayne would justify the wait, or leave them underwhelmed.
Initiating the ending of Wayne’s five-year hiatus, is “I Love You Dwayne” – an undeniable tear-jerker that features Lil Wayne’s mother, Jacida Carter, confessing her sincere pride in Wayne’s success, explaining her excitement for the release of his album, and her gratuity for having him in her life. This will resonate with Tunechi fans everywhere who have awaited the multiple eternities for the release of “Tha Carter V,” and the preamble into an equally melancholy song in “Don’t Cry”. Despite some minor comic relief from Lil Wayne referring to XXXTENTACION as “triple-extension”, the song is a saddening ballad that focuses largely on the Lil Wayne’s own acception of mortality, which is later addressed on “Open Letter”, with both tracks featuring Wayne contemplating death, and emphasizing the importance he places on family and leaving his mark on the world. What’s disappointing is that rather than more sincere and emotional tracks like these, “Tha Carter V” decides to fill the majority of its bulk with gloat-filled tracks.
For an overall, braggadocious album where the thematic foundation is Lil Wayne patting himself on the back for his accomplishments, it’s tracks like the ones listed above that do Wayne more justice in showing humility, and not flat-out hubris. The relevance of Wayne’s extreme self-confidence within this album is one that isn’t just evident in consistently egotistical undertones, but even more so the gall to construct 23 consistently long, and harmony-lacking tracks. To exemplify this, the fact that on a 23-track project, 14 of the songs are Lil Wayne without a legitimate feature (not including samples or producers) his sort of approach is very ambitious for an artist not necessarily renowned for being consistently diverse in his musicality. Consequently, the lack of features highlights Lil Wayne’s shortcomings in this project. “Dark Side Of The Moon,” “Mona Lisa” and “Let It Fly,” which feature Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott respectively, are easily Lil Wayne’s most entertaining tracks on “Tha Carter V.” Simply featuring other artists helps distract from the fact that “Tha Carter V” is a self-embellished memoir, containing subject matter that touches only on the life of rapper, Lil Wayne, and doesn’t manage to deliver any sort of shock factor going into most of these tracks’ conceptual foundation.
As remarkable and admirable an autobiographical may be, it’s very easy for somebody to drown in such singular subject matter. “Tha Carter V’s” excessive, overdone focus on Wayne could be very enjoyable and rewarding for long-awaiting Wayne fans, but it’s simply not satisfying to have an album dominated by songs that contain 2-3 dense verses, seemingly no hook and very minimal production. Due to their emotional weight, it’s no surprise that these songs will still have their place in certain listeners’ hearts, especially those who appreciate every Wayne song, bar for bar. But by the same token, 90 percent of listeners won’t even be coming back to tracks that are this densely packed and have such little focus on musicality.
It just becomes confusing that tracks like these exist in the first place when listeners are aware of Lil Wayne’s true capabilities. “Uproar”, “Mona Lisa”, “What About Me” and “Dedicate”, are all so fundamentally different, but are easily some of the best tracks on “Tha Carter V”. Talk all you’d like about its lyricism, or how it has deeper subject matter than other contemporary rappers, but ultimately the tell-tale sign of its underwhelming listening experience is going to be that only 5-6 songs will actually retain their replay value following the initial release.
To commend Lil Wayne, the overall endeavor of this one-man army in “Tha Carter V” is admirable, but the way the songs are constructed and performed causes it all to backfire. Following “What About Me” and getting closer to the second half of the album is where things go downhill very quickly, and while there are redeeming tracks, it still feels like drudgery just trying to get through the songs. There is not a single interlude throughout the nearly 90 minute-long project, and every song is full length. Remember “Culture II,” and how everybody complained that the Migos shouldn’t be trying to make every song four minutes because it was no longer entertaining and they could only do so much even with three members? Well, solo-man Lil Wayne shouldn’t feel as bad when joining the ranks of them considering he’s doing this on his own. This isn’t to discredit the actual quality of Wayne’s tracks. In the second half, “Dope Ni**az”, is like a breath of fresh air right as things become unbearably dry, and it’s hard to not love a song that samples Dr. Dre’s “Xxplosive”. Additionally, “Dope New Gospel” and “Start This Shit Off Right” with it’s beautiful Ashanti feature, provide soulfulness and actual sonic pleasure that defeat the notion that lyrics are above everything, because the most enjoyable part of these tracks is simply that they’re sonically pleasing to listen to, and has become a staple in the debate about contemporary versus “real rap”.
Verdict: Maybe it’s the high expectations caused by the five-year gap from Lil Wayne that have caused “Tha Carter V” to be somewhat underwhelming, however, with the lack of features, the mass quantity of dull tracks and the lack of attempts at anything but traditional rap. It’s a shame Wayne’s re-arrival into the music industry couldn’t have been more graceful.