No one expected this moment to come. Tha Carter V was one of those legendary unreleased albums, on the same level as Jay Electronica’s debut project and Dr. Dre’s Detox. After years of waiting, the historic moment finally came. This past Friday, Wayne released the fifth entry in the Carter series.
Is Tha Carter V the incredible album it was meant to be? No. I don’t think that any album could’ve reached the hype that Tha Carter V promised. Tha Carter V is a mixed bag, with some of Wayne’s best music and also some of his most boring songs.
The thing you’ll notice about C5 is that it is long, with 23 tracks, it’s an hour and a half long. This length is incredibly difficult to pull off for any artist, and Wayne is unfortunately unsuccessful. The fantastic tracks on this project are split apart by about a dozen skippable tracks.
The best tracks on this project are the simplest ones. When Wayne raps over a booming instrumental or a jazzy loop, the song almost automatically becomes a hit. Wayne’s lyrical creativity, his range of delivery and his general swagger on a track is unmatched.
“Dedicate,” the third track on the project, got me giddy. This is peak Wayne. With a bouncy, piano melody; a fast, groovy drum line; and Wayne rapping light speed. Wayne plays with flows like a kid with his toys, trying out a new rhyme pattern every few lines. Halfway through the track, a jazzy piano pops up in the background — a Lil Wayne trademark.
“Let it Fly” with Travis Scott is another success. After a Rodeo-era Travis Scott hook, Wayne drops one of his most eclectic and aggressive verses. He raps for a minute, using a scheme centered on the “I” sound. There’s no other rapper who could pull off a flow like this.
You can’t talk about this project without bringing up “Mona Lisa” — the collaboration with Kendrick Lamar. It starts with a long Wayne verse, setting up a storyline about a woman who works with him to seduce and then rob people. Wayne builds up a character through punchlines and clever lines. As the beat builds, Wayne gets more and more aggressive. Then the beat stops, there is a moment of silence and Kendrick pops onto the track already rapping triple speed. The king of storytelling, Kendrick builds on Wayne’s concept, playing several characters and switching voices between verses. This is one of the most exciting and successful collaborations in hip hop.
If Wayne pieced the standout tracks of C5 into a short, 40-minute project, we might be looking at the album of the year. Unfortunately, Wayne padded the real hits of the project with some completely unnecessary filler. The real issue is with Wayne’s melodic tracks. While Wayne has successfully made fantastic singing tracks in the past (see “I Feel Like Dying”), for the most part on this project, the ballads fall flat.
The most popular ballad, “Don’t Cry,” featuring a posthumous XXXTentacion hook, is a slow, almost corny emo song. The croons just don’t work. “Mess” stays true to its title — a haphazardly slapped together autotuned ballad. If Jeremih or Bryson Tiller recorded this song, they might be able to salvage it with their voices, but Wayne’s gritty vocal delivery just doesn’t work. Keep in mind none of these songs are altogether bad, they just feel unnecessary.
These missteps are almost all forgotten when you reach the last song on the project, “Let It All Work Out.” This is Wayne’s most mature track — almost what 4:44 was to Jay-Z. With a pensive, plodding beat and a victorious hook, Wayne brings out an introspective side we rarely see. He describes his suicide attempt with his mother’s gun, in brutal, gritty detail. He ends the verse saying, “God came to my side and we talked about it / he sold me another life and he made a profit (prophet),” a clever and inspiring end to a track and a fitting end to his comeback album.
While Tha Carter V is a flawed album, it still feels like a massive victory for Wayne. Wayne has been in such a rut through the past few years of his career — the constant releases of disappointing projects, struggles with sobriety and general health, and the highly publicized issues between him and Birdman which kept Tha Carter V from being released.
The release of a good project feels like a relief, like the comeback of a king fallen from grace. For the past few years, Wayne was the image of washed up rappers. It is nice to hear him call himself the “Best Rapper Alive” — and have it not be unbelievable. One can only hope that Weezy will continue to work on projects, refining his sound and delivering more classic tracks. I look forward to more songs in the near future starting with that classic lighter flick and the trademark Wayne laugh.