It’s hard to believe it’s been a full ten years since the release of Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III. The album took the New Orleans rapper’s career to new heights, earning Wayne his first US number-one single with, 'Lollipop', along with three Grammy Awards.
Flash forward to present day; Dwayne Michael Carter has faced jail time, released five more albums, helped launch the skyrocketing careers of Drake and Nicki Minaj, and plenty more. Although he often remains a polarizing figure, Carter’s ascension into legendary status is hard to deny.
One of the most significant moments in Lil Wayne’s recent career had been the delay of his highly-anticipated Tha Carter V. Initially completed in 2014, the album became delayed indefinitely due to legal disputes with label Cash Money Records, with Wayne filing a lawsuit for $51 million over unpaid money.
At long last, the lawsuit was resolved this past June (estimates for the settlement figure are said to be over $10 million). Wayne was finally off Cash Money and free to release Tha Carter V on his own terms.
It is clear that a good chunk of the album includes songs that haven’t been touched since its original completion, four years ago. Though a standout track in terms of lyricality, the Kendrick Lamar-assisted 'Mona Lisa' shows its age. Since the song was first reported around 2014, Lamar has grown enough artistically to feel like a completely new artist.
Hearing a verse he recorded pre-To Pimp a Butterfly can be likened to listening to a song off of the awkward 2pac and The Notorious B.I.G. posthumous releases from the early 2000s. After Lamar’s team gave Canadian rapper Jonathan Emile hell for using an old Kendrick verse on his single 'Heaven Help Dem', it feels hypocritical for a four-year-old verse to be included on 'Mona Lisa', even if Wayne is a significant influence for Kung-Fu Kenny.
Wayne is infamous for an insane work ethic, having been known to do whopping 26-hour sessions before his health deteriorated. For an artist so prolific, it is strange for him to have hung onto old tracks instead of recording new ones to reflect his current situation.
Like many other notable hip-hop releases of 2018, Tha Carter V falls victim to feeling oversaturated. 23 songs feels like more of a chore than an enjoyable experience, especially when only half of its tracks truly resonate. Tracks like 'Hittas' and 'Can’t Be Broken' feel uninspired, while others like 'Don’t Cry' are unnecessarily melodramatic.
The best moments of the album come when Wayne is having fun. The Swizz Beatz-produced 'Uproar' serves as a particular highlight, with Carter’s electrifying energy and wordplay calling back to his beloved 'Mixtape Weezy' era days. Later on C5, 'Demon'’s refrain finds the rapper using a choppy staccato flow to bend words in an incredibly clever fashion.
Tha Carter V concludes with 'Let It All Work Out', a Sampha-sampling track that touches upon attempting suicide at age 12 in its final verse. It’s one of the album’s rare moments of Wayne displaying a heightened sense of maturity. At 36 years old, it’s a shame we didn’t see more of this Carter.
After Tha Carter III received such high esteem, Wayne had finally made it to the 'Best Rapper Alive' debate. It became hard to justify that there was anything left to him to prove.
Two Carter installments later, Wayne now resides in the 'magnanimous legend' category à la Snoop Dogg or Ghostface Killah, releasing an abundance of work but never making too powerful an impact. He may no long be considered the current greatest, Carter still plays an important role in rap culture. Despite a considerable amount of skippable tracks, Tha Carter V still offers its fair share of moments reminding us why Lil Wayne is one of the genre’s most beloved.